Childhood obesity figures provide new impulse for obesity strategy

Related tags Obesity Hypertension

Around half a million European children are suffering from health
problems often associated with later life because they are
overweight or obese, a European congress on obesity heard

The new, as yet preliminary data, suggest that 550,000 youngsters in the EU may already be affected by the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and obesity. Around 15 per cent of Europe's adult population is thought to already have this syndrome, which significantly raises the risk for type2 diabetes and heart disease.

The new figures, revealed by the International Obesity TaskForce, were followed by strong words from EU health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou, outlining his commitment to plans for an EU-wide policy on obesity.

Kyprianou said the EU would publish a new strategy on diet and physical activity before the end of the year. It is expected to include a code of conduct on marketing 'unhealthy' foods to children.

Preliminary estimates suggest that 520,000 European children have high blood pressure, while 900,00 have high cholesterol levels.

More than 200,000 have type 2 diabetes, says the IOTF.

Talking at the launch of the European Congress on Obesity​ in Athens, Kyprianou said that the United Kingdom, which takes over the EU Presidency from Luxembourg on 1 July, had pledged to keep obesity firmly on the agenda during its six-month term.

"Put bluntly, today's overweight teenagers are tomorrow's middle-aged heart attack victims. Addressing obesity is not only important in public health terms, it will also reduce the long term costs to health services and boost Europe's economy by enabling our citizens to lead healthy and productive lives well into old age,"​ he said.

The EU Platform for Action on Diet and Physical Activity, which he launched in March, committed all its stakeholders to doing more to fight obesity, added the commissioner.

The Commission is currently talking with European advertisers about the scope for an EU-wide code of conduct to rein back the marketing of unhealthy food to children.

In an interview with the International Association for the Study of Obesity magazine, Obesity Newsletter​, the Commissioner said the food industry and advertisers had been told "very directly" that they must stop advertising high fat, high sugar and high salt foods to children.

He was hopeful that business would back away from the 'hard sell' to children and said it was significant that some big food companies have already pledged to stop or limit certain types of advertising to children.

"Industry is beginning to get the message that this sort of marketing is no longer acceptable. Of course, if the food industry and their advertisers do not deliver on self-regulation, public authorities - both at EU and national level - will be compelled to act to protect the health of our children."

Europe currently needs more research into obesity and better data on trends in the epidemic, particularly among children. The EU is only now discussing how best to track the obesity epidemic in Member States and it could be years before good EU-wide data is available.

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