Healthier foods needed to curb 'Eurobesity,' says EC

The European Commission (EC) has responded to the escalating obesity and overweight crisis in many European countries by calling for restrictions on the availability of foods high in fat and sugar. The Brussels, Belgium-based executive arm of the 25-member European Union also said healthier foods in school and workplace vending machines were needed, as well as clearer and better consumer information and greater promotion of sports and physical activity.

It is estimated that more than a quarter of men and a third of women are obese in some European countries, along with 14 million overweight children, of whom more than 3 million are obese. "Up to 27 per cent of European men and 38 per cent of women are now considered to be obese depending on the EU member state concerned," the EC said in a statement.

Southern European countries had the most obese populations, at around 20 per cent to 35 per cent, as opposed to 10 per cent to 20 per cent in northern Europe. "This is now an urgent public health issue requiring co-ordinated action at [the] EU level, as well as within member states," the Commission said.

"The prevalence of obesity has been rising fast in Europe and there is already evidence that this is leading to increasing rates of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

In an EU-wide survey seeking solutions to the problem, food industry sources favoured self-regulation in regard to advertising, formulation and other matters although impending pan-European legislation on fortified food and nutrition and health claims indicates a movement toward more central regulation.

Health-care professionals, consumer organisations and NGO respondents to the survey expressed scepticism about the impact of self-regulation on advertising of foods high in calories but poor in nutrients. The EC said it would consider policy options "and fine-tune its action with the right balance between voluntary agreements and legislative action."

Obesity-related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7 per cent of total health-care costs in EU member states.

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