Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mars Di Bartolomeo, Luxembourg’s Minister of Health, Karl-Heinz Florenz MEP, Chairman of the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, and representatives of business, civil society and public sector organisations today officially launched the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (see IP/05/292). The creation of the Platform is part of an overall strategy on nutrition and physical activity being developed by the Commission, and follows several months of discussions between the Commission and the various stakeholders about how to address the obesity epidemic in Europe. Rates of obesity, particularly among children, have risen across the EU and health experts have expressed concern about the consequences of this trend. Stakeholders agreed that promoting healthier diets and more physical activity among Europeans is the key to tackling this problem. Platform members are committed to take action and to devote more resources to fight obesity through healthy diets and physical activity, to pool Europe’s knowledge on what works – and what does not – and to disseminate best practice across our continent.
1) Why does the EU need this Platform? What is its value?
Obesity is one of the most serious health challenges facing the EU today (see IP/05/292). The reasons why Europe’s waistline has expanded are relatively simple: we tend to eat too much and exercise too little. How to address the problem, though, is far less simple. Food manufacturers, retailers, canteens, restaurants, schools, health professionals, national governments, local governments and civil society all have a role to play in promoting healthier eating and more physical activity. Nonetheless, the stakeholders who are creating the Platform have agreed that the problem of obesity is already sufficiently severe and sufficiently understood for them to be prepared to give a lead in taking actions that can help to contain or reverse the current trend.
The EU has an important role to play in all this via its food safety, public health, education, internal market and agricultural policies. By bringing together the key stakeholders at EU level, the Platform aims to pool their expertise and catalyse Europe-wide action across a range of sectors. Organising a Platform at EU-level enables us to pool the best expertise and the best knowledge Europe has to offer. The EU Platform should also act as a forum where good practice from one country can rapidly be disseminated and replicated across the continent.
2) Who are the members of the Platform?
The Platform brings together the key EU-level representatives of the food, retail, catering, and advertising industries, the cooperative movement, consumer organisations, health professionals and health NGOs. Its founding members are the European Commission, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), EuroCommerce – which represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe, the European Community of Consumer Cooperatives (EURO COOP), the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC), the European Heart Network (EHN), the European Modern Restaurants Association, the European Vending Association (EVA), the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have joined the Platform as observers.
Membership is open to any organisation operating at a European level that shares the Platform’s aims and that is willing to commit to action to help achieve them.
3) What exactly have the members of the Platform agreed to do?
All Platform members have agreed to devote an increasing level of resources and effort either to extended existing initiatives or launching new actions designed to reverse the obesity trend. The five fields for action identified so far by the Platform members are:
Consumer information, including labelling
Physical activity promotion
Marketing and advertising
Composition of foods, availability of healthy food options, portion sizes
Over the coming months each of the Platform members will draw up an inventory describing what it is currently doing to promote healthy diets and physical activity. Members will then submit action plans setting out what more they propose to do in these areas. It is up to each individual member to define the details of their action plan. The key principle, though, is that the plan must go beyond what they are already doing.
4) What impact is the Platform going to have?
The Commission has made clear to Platform Members that what it expects from them is a step change – i.e. a significant increase – in the effort they devote to fighting obesity. Minor increases in activity or a few token initiatives will not be sufficient. Given the positive nature of the discussions that led to the creation of the Platform, we are confident that this message has been understood – and will be acted on.
5) How soon will we see results?
Platform members are due to put forward action plans this summer that will describe the new actions and initiatives they propose to undertake. In principle, the action plans will detail how existing initiatives will be extended or new additional activities that the Platform members will deliver during the course of 2006.
It is quite possible, though, that the Platform will catalyse the launch of some new activities, or greater investment in existing initiatives, during the second half of 2005.
6) By joining the Platform is the food industry committing itself to ending the advertising of less healthy foods to children?
Food advertising and marketing practices and the promotion of healthy diets are among the fields for action identified in the Platform. It is not possible, at this stage, to say what the outcome of these discussions will be. However, some companies have already launched initiatives to limit the advertising of certain foods high in fat, sugar or salt directly to children. The Commission hopes that the food industry as a whole will follow this lead.
It is important to be clear, though, that the Platform is not the only forum in which the Commission is engaging with business on the issue of food advertising. There have been a number of contacts between the Commission, the World Federation of Advertisers, the European Advertising Standards Alliance and others to explore the scope for strengthening industry self-regulation and for ensuring best practice is followed across the EU.
7) Will the Platform discuss the amount of salt, fat and sugar manufacturers put in processed food?
The Commission’s proposal for a new EU law to regulate the use of nutrition and health claims on food foresees a process whereby the Commission in consultation with stakeholders, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Member States will define “nutritional profiles” for different foods (see IP/03/1022). The amount of total fat, saturates, sugar or salt will be among the criteria for establishing these “nutritional profiles”, since scientific evidence shows a link between over-consumption of such nutrients and certain chronic diseases. The Commission is in contact with the EFSA concerning advice on dietary intakes of nutrients. Also, individual members of the Platform could, on a voluntary basis, put forward initiatives on changing the composition of food products.
8) How and when will the Commission judge whether the Platform is succeeding in its aims?
They key test for the Platform will be whether the action plans proposed by its members catalyse significant new activity in the fight against obesity. These plans are due to be defined in 2005 and delivered in 2006. Therefore, by the end of 2006 we should be in a position to judge whether the Platform is producing real results.
9) What happens if the Platform is judged not to be succeeding?
The Platform is an experiment in working with business and civil society to produce results in a more rapid and flexible way. However, if the experiment does not work the Commission still has the traditional tools of public policy, such as regulation, at its disposal.
10) How does the Platform fit with the Commission’s wider strategy on nutrition and physical activity?
The Commission is in the process of reviewing how various EU policies could contribute to the fight against obesity. The Platform is one of several initiatives currently underway. For example, projects have been accepted for funding under the EU’s Public Health Programme, a network of Member State experts on nutrition and physical activity created, and new legislation proposed to regulate the use of health and nutritional claims by companies marketing food (see: IP/03/1022). However, and overarching strategy is called for. Addressing obesity requires action in terms of nutrition but also promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles. The Commission will present a Green Paper this summer presenting its initial ideas on this.
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