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Procedure : 2006/2231(INI)
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PV 31/01/2007 - 21
CRE 31/01/2007 - 21

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PV 01/02/2007 - 7.9
CRE 01/02/2007 - 7.9
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Thursday, 1 February 2007 - Brussels
Promoting healthy diets and physical activity

European Parliament resolution on 'Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: a European dimension for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases' (2006/2231(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission Green Paper (COM(2005)0637),

–   having regard to the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, adopted by the 57th World Health Assembly on 22 May 2004,

–   having regard to the Council resolution of 14 December 2000 on health and nutrition(1),

–   having regard to the conclusions of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of 3 June 2005 concerning obesity, nutrition and physical activity,

–   having regard to the informal meeting of EU sports ministers on 19-20 September 2005 at which the British Presidency proposed the creation of a working party on Sport and Health,

–   having regard to the call issued by scientists at the 10th International Congress on Obesity (ICO 2006), which was held in Sydney from 3 to 8 September 2006,

–   having regard to the conclusions reached at the Finnish Presidency's high-level expert conference entitled 'Health in all policies', held in Kuopio on 20-21 September 2006,

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the opinion of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A6-0450/2006),

A.   whereas the number of people suffering from obesity has increased spectacularly over the last 30 years within the European Union; whereas the phenomenon's growth rate is the same as in the USA in the early 1990s, and whereas nearly 27% of men and 38% of women in Europe are these days regarded as being overweight or obese,

B.   whereas rising obesity prevalence, especially in children, is not limited to the EU and other rich countries, but is increasing dramatically in several developing countries,

C.   whereas obesity also affects over five million children in the EU 27 and whereas the rate of progression is alarming, with nearly 300 000 new cases per year,

D.   whereas studies have shown that disabled persons are at greater risk from obesity caused by a number of factors including patho-physiological mutations of the energy metabolism and the body's constitution, muscular atrophy and physical inactivity,

E.   whereas the energy intake amongst large groups of the population has been stable since the 1950s; whereas changes in lifestyle, however, have led to a decrease in both physical activity and physical work and thereby reduced energy requirements, causing an imbalance between energy needs and energy supply,

F.   whereas numerous projects and studies have confirmed that the onset of obesity is characterised by early disparities linked to the socio-economic environment and that the condition is more frequent in low-income families with a low level of educational achievement,

G.   whereas due regard should be given to the various dietary habits and consumption patterns existing in the Member States, when establishing an EU Action Plan for the promotion of healthy lifestyles,

H.   whereas the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 2005 report on health in Europe demonstrates that a large number of deaths and illnesses are caused by seven major risk factors of which six (hypertension, cholesterol, excessive body mass index, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol consumption) are related to diet and physical exercise and whereas those health determinants must be acted upon with equal priority, with a view to preventing a significant number of deaths and illnesses,

I.   whereas a healthy diet must be considered as one with certain quantitative and qualitative properties such as energy content in accordance with individual needs and always in accordance with dietetic principles,

J.   whereas although by virtue of the powers conferred upon it under the Treaties the EU has an essential role to play in the field of consumer protection by encouraging healthy eating and the consumption of fruit and vegetables, Community measures to promote sport and physical activity must of necessity complement those implemented by the Member States, their regions and cities,

K.   whereas the socio-economic impact of diseases relating to the problems of overweight (which already account for between 4 and 7% of the Member States' total health expenditure) must also be considered; whereas the overall cost of obesity (taking into account the increased likelihood of unemployment, work stoppages and invalidity) has not been subjected to precise scientific evaluation,

L.   whereas most of the Member States have introduced policies designed to tackle the problems of obesity and to increase their populations' level of health - some governments having introduced bans and others preferring incentives,

M.   whereas certain Member States have, for example, decided to regulate - or even to ban - the presence of vending machines in schools on account of the limited range of items on offer and the negligible provision of low-sugar drinks, fruit and vegetables and 'diet' products,

N.   whereas it is interesting to consider - as constituting an initial stage - the voluntary undertakings recently given on the one hand by European manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages to restrict marketing to children under the age of 12 whilst at the same time providing access to more varied beverages in schools and, on the other, by two 'giants' of the fast-food sector to print nutrition symbols on hamburger packaging and on the paper cones in which chips are sold,

O.   welcoming the various initiatives aimed at promoting healthy eating that many European retailers are piloting, including development of healthy ranges, comprehensive and easy-to-understand labelling of nutrition information, and partnerships with governments, schools and NGOs to raise awareness about the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise,

P.   whereas the Green Paper under consideration is part of a comprehensive EU initiative designed to combat the factors which are most harmful to health ( including poor eating habits and lack of physical activity) and which - along with smoking and excessive alcohol consumption - are the root cause of cardiovascular diseases (which are the primary cause of death amongst men and women in the European Union), certain types of cancer, respiratory disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, which increase the demand on national health systems,

Q.   whereas the outcome of a public-consultation exercise in the wake of the Green Paper, presented by the Commission on 11 September 2006, has prompted calls in particular for EU action covering various Community policies and devoting particular attention to children and young people,

R.   whereas the Community is called upon to play an active role (in connection with joint policies or in addition to the activities engaged in by the 27 Member States) in terms of campaigns to inform consumers and make them more aware of the obesity issue, to restore fruit and vegetable consumption under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), to fund research, educational and sports projects and to adopt new or revised legislation which has a genuine impact on European citizens' nutritional health,

Obesity: a political priority?

1.  Welcomes the Commission's commitment to healthy eating (in quantitative and qualitative terms) and physical activity, as well as to the fight against obesity and major diet related diseases; calls for this to be regarded henceforth as a political priority of the European Union and its Member States;

2.  Recognises that obesity is multi-factorial and as such requires a holistic approach involving many different policy areas;

3.  Bitterly regrets that despite the action taken by a number of Member States, obesity affects a constantly growing proportion of the population and that if this trend continues, the consequences in terms of public health, which could be prevented through the proper measures, will be incalculable;

4.  Advises all the Member States to recognise obesity officially as a chronic disease in order to prevent obese people from being stigmatised and discriminated in any way; also advises the Member States to ensure that these people have access to appropriate treatment under their national health systems;

5.  Welcomes the adoption at the WHO European Ministerial Conference, which took place in Istanbul on 15 to 17 November 2006, of a Charter on counteracting obesity, highlights the setting up of an ambitious framework for action in order to bring the epidemic under control, and calls on the Commission and Member States to establish a timetable for implementing and prioritising interventions under this framework;

6.  Supports unreservedly the launch in March 2005 of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health ("the Platform") and welcomes the method adopted by DG SANCO: a permanent dialogue with the various sectors of industry, the Member States' authorities and NGOs;

7.  Welcomes the voluntary commitments already proposed by the stakeholders of the Platform; stresses the need to ensure that such commitments made in the Platform are effectively monitored and calls on the Commission to develop clear criteria for assessment; notes that reliable assessment is vital to ensure that progress can be adequately measured and to allow for further EU action or legislative proposals to be considered where this may be necessary; calls on the Commission to report annually to the European Parliament on the achievements of the Platform;

8.  Requests the Commission to conduct impact assessments on relevant policy proposals to determine their impact on public health, obesity and nutrition goals; recommends that this 'health or obesity check' should take place in particular on the CAP research programmes, energy policy, advertising and food policy;

9.  Remarks that whilst a broad range of stakeholders are currently involved in the Platform, they tend to be concentrated on the 'energy-input' side of the obesity issue; calls therefore on stakeholders related to the 'energy-output' side - such as computer game manufacturers, sports associations and broadcasters - to become more engaged in the debate and to consider making similar commitments;

10.  Regards as a step in the right direction the trend currently prevailing in various sectors of the European food industry towards practical action designed to refocus the marketing of products to children and to introduce nutritional labelling on children's drinks and food products;

11.  Encourages Member States to identify cost-effective opportunities to partner their health services with industry in a manner that both improves patient understanding and control of their diet and relieves the economic burden of obesity; considers that particular attention should be paid to schemes that address the needs of people in socially and economically deprived communities;

12.  Expects practical measures to be put forward in the very near future by the Commission in a White Paper, with a view to reducing the number of overweight and obese people from 2015 at the latest;

Informing consumers from childhood onwards

13.  Considers that any policy designed to prevent and monitor obesity should cover people's entire lives from the ante-natal period to old age; also considers that particular attention should be paid to childhood - the stage in life when many eating habits are adopted;

14.  Encourages Member States to recognise that education on nutrition and health, starting from a very early age, is crucial to preventing overweight and obesity;

15.  Stresses the danger of excessive zeal regarding the campaign to combat obesity and considers that the right examples should be given to children and adolescents receptive to peer pressure so as to avoid any increase in other dietary disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia;

16.  Considers that health professionals play an important role in promoting the health benefits of a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity and detecting any risk, especially to persons with excess abdominal fat who have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, in particular, and other medical conditions; invites Member States to promote the profession of nutritionist by mutual recognition of professional qualifications and defining access conditions to this profession as well as ensuring scientific vocational training;

17.  Points out that school is the place where children spend most of their time and that the school environment, and especially school canteens, must therefore encourage young children to develop their tastes, providing basic cooking skills and food knowledge, and promote regular physical activity and a healthy lifestyle, particularly in order to counter the decreasing time allocated to physical education in schools in the EU; calls therefore on the Commission to develop mechanisms to promote best practices in schools which take account of the most effective initiatives for educating children about healthy eating habits and providing quality food based on high nutritional standards;

18.  Deplores the practice of Member State governments selling school playing-fields for development;

19.  Calls on Member States to provide sufficient funds for school catering in order to allow schools to serve freshly produced meals, preferably from organic or regional agriculture, and to encourage healthy dietary habits from an early age;

20.  Considers that Member States should be encouraged to ensure that children have sufficient facilities to engage in sports and physical activities at school; encourages Member States and their local authorities to consider the promotion of a healthy and active lifestyle when planning the location of schools so as to bring them closer to the communities they serve, thus enabling children to walk or cycle to school, rather than sitting in a car or on a bus;

21.  Calls for EU soft drink manufacturers to implement without delay the commitments which they laid down on 20 December 2005 in their code of practice, in particular their commitment to restrict commercial activities in primary schools;

22.  Considers that the presence (where authorised) of vending machines in secondary schools should be in accordance with healthy dietary rules;

23.  Condemns the frequency and the intensity of television campaigns designed to advertise and promote foodstuffs targeted exclusively at children, and stresses that such commercial practices do not encourage healthy eating habits and should therefore be managed at EU level through the revision of the 'Television without Frontiers' Directive(2); stresses furthermore that there is clear evidence that TV advertising influences short-term consumption patterns of children aged between 2 and 11 years, but considers at the same time that the individual responsibility of parents comes into play, since the final decision to purchase lies with them; however, notes that surveys show that a majority of parents want clear restrictions on the promotion of unhealthy foods to children;

24.  Calls on the Commission to establish, within the Platform, voluntary or self-regulatory commitments to end the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children but urges the Commission to come forward with legislative proposals should self-regulation fail to deliver change;

25.  Points out that new forms of advertising to children such as text messaging to mobile phones, on-line games and sponsorships of playgrounds should not be exempt from such considerations;

26.  Considers that a 'gentlemen's agreement' between the Commission and the European media industries must eventually be concluded, involving the requirement for children's products in different media formats (television, cinema, Internet and video games) to carry health and recreation information intended to make Europe's youngsters aware of the importance of practising sport and of eating fruit and vegetables in order to remain healthy;

27.  Acknowledges the role of the European Food Safety Authority in issuing dietary advice and recommendations;

28.  Believes that the media (TV, radio and the Internet) are now more than ever before an essential teaching device for learning about nutritional health and one which should offer practical advice to consumers in order to enable them to establish the right balance between daily calorie consumption and energy expenditure and ultimately give them freedom of choice;

29.  Considers that Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods(3) gives out a strong signal and will finally provide consumers with honest, reliable and consistent information concerning the nutritional characteristics of food products, in particular those which contain large amounts of sugar, salt and certain fats; notes that the implementation of that Regulation should be carried out in a way that still encourages and enables food and drinks companies to innovate and improve their products; therefore considers that in the context of that Regulation, the establishment of nutrient profiles by the European Food Safety Authority must be given high priority, taking into account the most recent available data, and be carried out in close cooperation with consumer NGOs and food operators, including retailers;

30.  Notes growing public and scientific concern about the impact of artificial trans-fats on human health and notes moves by certain national (Canada, Denmark) and regional (City of New York) authorities to remove trans-fats from the human diet; calls for EU action to reduce the intake of trans-fats;

31.  Considers that Council Directive 90/496/EEC of 24 September 1990 on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs(4) needs to be revised without delay, so as to include, as a minimum, a requirement to indicate the presence and quantity of nutrients and the nature of the fats, in pursuit of the objectives involving the simplification and harmonisation of European legislation and in line with the recommendations put forward by industry representatives and consumer associations;

32.  Takes a strong interest in the food signposting systems put in place in several Member States by food companies, retailers or public bodies in order to simplify nutrition messages; recognises the value of such signposting systems as well as healthy-choice logos when they are favoured by consumers and easy to use; recalls that research confirms that schemes which indicate levels of nutrients via an interpretative element are the most helpful to consumers in choosing healthier options; calls on the Commission to draw on this experience and research to develop and introduce an EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme and points out that a consistent message to consumers demands a certain degree of harmonisation in this area and that such messages must be scientifically based;

Incorporating nutrition and physical activity into other Community policies

33.  Believes that product reformulation is a powerful tool for reducing the intake of fat, sugar and salt in our diets and welcomes the steps taken by a few manufacturers and retailers to move in this direction; notes that to date only 5% of the total voluntary commitments made under the Platform relate to product development; calls on the Commission, Member States, manufacturers, retailers and caterers to step up efforts to ensure that manufacturers, retailers and caterers reduce fat, sugar and salt levels in foods; calls on manufacturers to use product reformulation not just to launch new, sometimes more expensive brands, but to prioritise cutting fat, sugar and salt in existing everyday brands;

34.  Highlights the importance of empowering the individual to make informed choices about what to eat and how much physical exercise to take;

35.  Considers that the promotion of a healthy diet and of physical activity must be a political priority not only for DG SANCO but also for the Commission directorates-general responsible for agriculture, transport, employment, research, education and sport, which implement Community policies or programmes with an impact on nutritional health; requests the Commission to conduct impact assessments on relevant policy proposals to determine their impact on public health and nutrition goals, in particular the CAP;

36.  Welcomes the fact that the current Community action programme on public health (2003-2008) provides funding for a number of projects concerned with obesity and considers that long-term funding must be made available and that emphasis must be placed in the second programme (2007-2013) on promoting a healthy lifestyle amongst children, young people and people with disabilities;

37.  Emphasises that information campaigns are not the best tools for reaching disadvantaged socio-economic groups; considers that actions need to be adapted to local needs and be community-based, direct contacts need to be established and there has to be close cooperation between local schools, kindergartens, all general practitioners, paediatricians, and local health services; points out that evaluation of such activities is vital in order to understand whether they are having the desired effect;

38.  Calls for the Structural Funds to be used for investment in socio-economically disadvantaged areas in infrastructure that facilitates physical activity and safe transport (such as bicycle lanes) and encourages outdoor play in a safe environment; at the same time, encourages the Member States to invest in such objectives;

39.  Calls upon the Commission (in partnership with the appropriate ministries in the Member States or the regions) to contribute to 'sport at school' programmes in 'guinea pig' establishments;

40.  Encourages the Commission to evaluate the extent to which malnutrition and lack of mobility are a problem among the elderly and to consider what further measures need to be taken in order to assist this important but sometimes overlooked group in the community in this regard;

41.  Calls on the Member States and employers to stimulate their employees to participate in keep-fit and physical activities, especially women employed to do monotonous tasks which can lead to chronic diseases;

42.  Recognises the role of employers in promoting healthy lifestyles amongst their employees; points out that workforce health and hence productivity should be part of businesses' corporate social-responsibility strategy; looks to the recently launched European Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility to promote the exchange of good practice in this domain;

43.  Welcomes the call issued by the scientific community at the 10th International Congress on Obesity for research to be stepped up with a view to achieving better insight into how genetic factors and lifestyle interact and give rise to illness;

44.  Welcomes in this connection the Community funding provided for nine projects included under the 'food quality and safety' thematic priority within the Sixth Research and Development Framework Programme - projects which seek new ways of combating obesity by concentrating on (for example) a specific age range or by studying the interaction between genetic and behavioural factors and a state of satiation;

45.  Calls in connection with the Seventh Research and Development Framework Programme for action against obesity to continue not only to reap the benefits of transnational cooperation between researchers in the thematic field of diet, agriculture and biotechnology but for it also to be regarded as a research topic of common interest to a number of disciplines;

46.  Highlights the importance of having a comparable set of indicators on health status (including data on dietary intake, physical activity and obesity), especially by age group and socio-economic category;

47.  Is highly concerned at the fall in the consumption of fruit and vegetables within Europe, which mainly affects low-income European households on account of the fact that such products are expensive and too little information is made available concerning their true value in the diet;

48.  Calls on the Commission to propose a policy and regulatory framework that makes available the best sources of nutrients and other beneficial food components and gives European consumers choice on how to achieve and maintain the optimal nutrition intake best suited to their individual lifestyle and health;

49.  Is concerned about reports that the nutritional content of fruit and vegetables produced in Europe has fallen over the last decades and calls on Commission and Council to take the necessary steps in the 2008 CAP review in order to consider food nutritive value an important criterion and to enhance quality food production and healthy nutrition incentives in the framework of rural development policies;

50.  Calls for greater consistency between the CAP and the health policies launched by the European Union and calls upon the Commission to make quite sure that EU subsidies awarded to certain industrial sectors are not under any circumstances used to finance advertising campaigns which present high-calorie products in a favourable light;

51.  Regards as essential a reform of the common organisation of the markets in fruit and vegetables, one of the objectives of which would be to revive consumption of this type of highly nutritious foodstuff; firmly believes, furthermore, that a policy of incentives (including price reductions, lower taxation and other types of subsidy) is preferable to a system based on increased taxation of high-calorie products ('fat tax') which would ultimately penalise in particular the least affluent European households;

o   o

52.  Invites the WHO to present its current thinking on obesity to the European Parliament;

53.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, to the national parliaments and governments of Member States and candidate countries and to the WHO.

(1) OJ C 20, 23.1.2001, p. 1.
(2) Council Directive 89/552/EEC (OJ L 298, 17.10.1989, p. 23). Directive amended by Directive 97/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 202, 30.7.1997, p. 60).
(3) OJ L 404, 30.12.2006, p. 9. Corrected in OJ L 12, 18.1.2007, p. 3.
(4) OJ L 276, 6.10.1990, p. 40. Directive as last amended by Commission Directive 2003/120/EC (OJ L 333, 20.12.2003, p. 51).

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