December 8, 2005

EU asks public for help in tackling rise in obesity

By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's health chief issued a public
invitation on Thursday to find concrete ideas for tackling an
alarming rise in obesity, especially among children, by
promoting healthy diets coupled with more physical exercise.

Views on how to make fruits and vegetables more attractive
to consumers, as well as improving the nutritional value of
school meals, are included in an extensive European Commission
survey that aims to curb Europeans' expanding waistlines.

"More than 400,000 children are estimated to become
overweight every year and today's overweight teenagers are
tomorrow's heart attack or diabetes victims," EU Health and
Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.

In the 25-nation EU, up to 27 percent of men and 38 percent
of women are now considered to be obese, with almost one in
four children seen as overweight. Obesity also accounts for up
to 7 percent of health care costs across the bloc.

The problem is worst in southern countries, as
traditionally healthy Mediterranean diets give way to processed
foods rich in fat, sugar and salt -- although Poland and
Britain have also seen steep rises in child obesity in recent

Spain, Portugal and Italy report obesity levels above 30
percent in children aged between 7 and 11, the Commission says.

The Commission's public consultation will run until March,
with a report summarizing the findings due by June.

It pays special attention to food offered to children in
schools, saying it is "vital that children be guided toward
healthy behaviors" and requesting views on the "excessive
intake of energy-dense and sugar-sweetened soft drinks."

Other areas include ways of presenting nutrition
information to consumers and whether national self-regulation
on advertising foods that are energy-dense and poor in
micronutrients is enough for EU governments to reverse the
Europe's obesity trend.