EU should push food industry to tackle obesity

Tougher EU regulations are needed on food adverts aimed at children, as well as better labelling rules to persuade Europeans to switch to a healthier diet, according to a new report.

The London-based International Obesity TaskForce is calling for the food industry to be encouraged to help combat the obesity epidemic, and to avoid hard sell techniques that push products high in fat, sugar and salt.

Estimates from last year’s World Health Report suggest 2.5m deaths every year are related to overweight, and this could double by 2020. The IOTF warns that Europe is ‘at the crossroads’ in terms of overweight and obesity, with related diseases affecting one in three children, and adult rates increasing throughout Europe.

IOTF chairman Prof Philip James says that the food industry had to be “part of the solution” to the problem of increasing levels of overweight and obesity.

He told a EU conference in Milan that efforts to promote better lifestyles must include changes to the way food is processed and marketed, to encourage consumers to make healthier choices.

The report calls for “stronger and more focused prevention measures” on promoting healthy diets and more active lifestyles, with direct involvement of many departments of government as well as business and civil society.

The IOTF calls on politicians and business leaders to agree to better protect children from aggressive marketing techniques, and for food and drink manufacturers to commit to supporting public health goals.

Farmers should also be included by switching subsidies from oils, fats and sugars to the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, the report suggests, while urban development should be planned to encourage less dependence on the car.