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ELM News ImageObesity: report suggests ways to tackle rise in EU

Chips covered in Mayonnaise
Tempting, but are they good for you?
Europeans are getting increasingly overweight. Across the EU, 14 million children are estimated to be overweight and a further three million classed as obese. In some states already half of the adult population are overweight and between 20 to 30 percent of them are obese. A Parliamentary report to be voted on in February calls obesity a "European epidemic" and proposes better information on food, more education about food, healthy school dinners and more sports as possible solutions.

Number of overweight children rising fast
Obesity and weight problems are some of the most serious health challenges facing today's European Union. Someone is obese is they have a Body Mass Index of 30 (BMI = weight (kg)/height(m)2). The reason for Europe’s expanding waistline is relatively simple: we tend to eat too much and exercise too little. Some examples illustrate the problem:

    * Up to 27% of men and 38% of women are obese in some parts of the EU.
    * The number of overweight children is also growing rapidly, currently rising by 400 000 a year.
    * Obesity contributes to a number of serious illnesses most notably heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke and certain types of cancer.
    * Poor nutrition and insufficient exercise are among the leading causes of avoidable death in Europe.
    * It is estimated that 7% of healthcare costs in the EU are linked to obesity and related illnesses.

Reports backs school sports / healthy school meals
In February MEP will be voting on an own-initiative report by Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries. This report, entitled "Promoting healthy diets and physical activity" recommends that all countries take the following steps:

    * Recognise obesity officially as a chronic disease to prevent discrimination.
    * Inform people from an early age the effects of a poor diet.
    * Ensure that schools have sports facilities.  
    * Provide funding to enable schools to provide healthy meals instead of tradition fatty foods.

It also calls on the EU's executive; the European commission to push for rules to end the promotion of fatty; salty; sugary food to children.
"Fat free" - but is it really? MEPs want tighter rules
Last May Parliament endorsed a report by the Italian MEP Adriana Poli Bortone (Union of Europe for the Nations group) which aimed to tighten up nutritional and health claims made on foods.
Studies show that consumers tend to rely more on labels such as "reduces cholesterol", "low fat", "rich in calcium", "high fibre", "fat free", "light" than the nutritional analysis tables on the packs.
The regulation aims at preventing the use of health claims to promote foods with high quantities of sugar, salt or fat. In future all claims will have to backed-up by scientific claims. A compromise between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers means a regulation on improving consumer protection will be introduced this year. All new health claims on food will need to be registered with the European Food Safety Authority - EFSA.
EU platform for "Action on Diet Physical Activity and Health"
Prompted by the alarming rise in health the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection Markos Kyprianou launched an EU Platform for "Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health". That same year the Commission also launched a Green paper how to reduce obesity levels and the prevalence of associated chronic diseases in the EU.
Nutrition, physical activity and obesity are key priorities in the EU public health policy, including its action programme for public health (2003-2008).