EC food industry urges multi-factor approach to obesity
understanding of all the related factors and an acceptance that a
lack of physical activity could be a major contributor.
These sentiments were contained in the European food and drink industry's recently published response to the EC's Green Paper, entitled Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: towards a European strategy for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases.
The Confederation of the food and drink industries of the European Union (CIAA) said that while it supports the Commissions initiative to launch a public consultation and welcomed the transparent and participative approach taken by the EC, there was a definite need for greater understanding of all obesity-related factors.
The CIAA said that these should include the determinants that affect food choice, factors that lead to insufficient physical activity in every-day life, and not just food products themselves.
"In this context, CIAA has supported the Commissions initiative on the European Platform for action on diet, physical activity and health as a forum for stakeholders to share best practice and develop action plans to tackle the increase of health problems and, in particular, of obesity," said the confederation.
"Tackling the multifactorial aspects of the obesity issue will require multiple strategies and the sustained efforts of many players."
For example, CIAA emphasises that it is vital that the context in which a person lives is taken into account, along with the wider social context.
"Policies that focus solely on food and food marketing will not be effective in addressing all the different causes and factors related to overweight, obesity and chronic diseases," it said.
Action is certainly needed. The Commission says that 14 million Europeans are obese or overweight, of which more than 3 million are children.
Obesity-related illnesses, which include heart disease and diabetes, account for up to 7 per cent of healthcare costs in the Union. In some Member States, over a quarter of the adult population is now obese.
The green paper makes it clear that the EC considers industry self-regulation the best way of dealing with the problem. But the CIAA insists that a broader approach is needed that takes the underlying network of multiple factors into account.
To this extent, the CIAA says that any Community strategy for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases should be established in a way that respects free and informed choice for all consumers in Europe.
"Ultimately, each consumer is responsible for ensuring that his or her own lifestyle is a healthy one," said the CIAA.
"Parents have a similar responsibility for their children. These individual responsibilities cannot be removed.
"On the other hand, consumers and parents can be supported in fulfilling them. And efforts in two policy areas in particular namely, education and health - can play a role in providing such support."
In addition, the CIAA claims that the Green Paper does not assign suitable importance with regard to prevention of chronic diseases and to maintenance of mental health.
"There is increased recognition of the importance that moderate physical activity levels in daily life play in preventing obesity," said the confederation.
"CIAA urges for intervention strategies to increase the level of physical activity in children, adolescents and adults, in particular in the school environment."
Green papers are intended to open discussion on specific EU policy areas, with organisations and individuals invited to participate in the debate. In some cases they lead to subsequent legislation.
A public consultation on the paper ran until 15 March 2006. A report summarising the contributions will be published on the Commission's website by June 2006.