Restricting marketing to children and continuing to cut salt, fats and added sugar in processed foods are among initiatives put forward in a plan to tackle childhood obesity, agreed by EU member states in Greece last week.
The action plan was agreed by the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity at a conference in Athens, and includes a range of voluntary initiatives intended to promote healthy environments and balanced diets, encourage physical activity, restrict advertising to children, and support ongoing efforts to slash levels of salt, fats and added sugar.
Childhood obesity is on the rise in Europe, the European Commission said, adding that about one in three children aged six to nine was overweight or obese in the region in 2010 versus one in four children in 2008. It said member states spent an estimated 7% of their healthcare budgets on treating weight-related problems.
The new strategy includes encouraging industry to make commitments in areas such as marketing, food reformulation, food distribution, catering and physical activity, with a specific focus on children, young people and the most deprived.
Referring to marketing restrictions in particular, it said limits on advertising to children should extend beyond television advertising to include all marketing, “including in-store environments, promotional actions, internet presence and social media activities”.
Taxation, subsidies and pricing
The plan also refers to making “the healthy option the easier option” – a strategy that could include taxation and subsidies for particular foods, or encouraging manufacturers to price reformulated foods at a lower level than standard versions.
Proposals included “encouraging reformulation of less healthy food options and taking nutritional objectives into consideration when defining taxation, subsidies or social support policies”.
In response to the plan, trade body FoodDrinkEurope said it hoped to continue a partnership approach to tackling childhood obesity in Europe.
“European food and drink manufacturers reaffirm their commitment to fight childhood obesity by means of ongoing and possibly new actions and initiatives targeted at children and parents through the established platforms for action at European and national level,” it said in a statement.