Friday, 8 July 2016

Obesity, a European concern

Obesity is related to the intake o sugar-sweetened beverage, which is increasing in several EU countries. Google

The Parliament is expected to assemble at least 375 signatures from MEPs next Monday (July 11th) in an attempt to increase the social awareness of obesity within the citizens of the Union.

Anticipating the celebration of the European Obesity Day (May 21st), on April 26th a written declaration was introduced in the European Parliament by MEP Alfred Sant (S&D) calling on the urgent recognition of obesity as a chronic disease. Next Monday (July 11th) the Parliament is expected to assemble at least 375 signatures from MEPs, paving the way to formally call on the European Council and the European Commission.

“Obesity causes many other diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers,” said Sant following the Healthy Breakfast event at the Parliament. “Better prevention and treatment of obesity will provide tangible healthcare system savings, as well as reducing the suffering of the millions affected.”

This move marks an important step towards the combat of obesity, exposing its severe risks – including morbidity and mortality - and calling on immediate action to improve the EU response. Up until today, Portugal is the only European country recognising the illness.

Towards a Common Goal

Triggered by the socialist, the written declaration - a political tool to raise awareness on certain topics and proportionate debates and sustainable solutions - has counted with the support from most political families in the Parliament and several stakeholders, stressing the relevance of this serious public health concern.

The advent of sedentary lifestyles combined with poor eating habits has resulted in an increase of the world’s population affected with obesity. According to Eurostat, country estimates for 2008 recorded over 50% of both man and women as overweighed. A European health survey is currently being conducted with a scheduled update projected for December 2016.

The occurrence of this disease has tripled in many European countries since the 1980’s posing serious threats to our public health and to the sustainability of healthcare systems. Obesity-related costs currently represent more than €70 billion a year in expenditure and lost productivity for governments.

One of the main reasons for the prevalence of this disease is connected to the bad alimentary habits in our society and the easy and affordable access to tasteful processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB). According to estimates the annual deaths attributed to SSBs reaches 184,000.

The term SSBs comprises caloric soft drinks, lemonade/lime carbonates, ginger ale, tonic water, orange carbonates, iced tea, juice drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks.

Sweetened-Sugar Beverage Sales in Europe

A recent study from the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk (ICCR) has delivered the latest trends of SSB’s sales around the world in 2015. The study is measured in liters per capita and the NetherlandsBelgium and Germany are the top seller countries with 93.0, 91.4 and 83.8, respectively.

Nations like Portugal (64.7), Greece (39.4), Croatia (61.4), Italy (52.6) and Spain (77.1) registered a decrease in the number of SSBs sold.  Overall, the highest cuts in SSBs sales were mostly seen in Western countries. Noteworthy though is the abrupt growth of sales in developing countries.

Nevertheless, when focusing separately on energy drink sales – a minor fraction of total SSBs sales - ICCR reported it to be on the rise throughout the world, except for Ireland, Portugal and Finland. Questions remain whether the cuts on Western sales are being offset by the rise on energy drink sales.

Regulatory Framework

Back in 2007, the European Commission released a paper proposing several measures at different levels for the promotion of healthier lifestyles for the citizens of the Union. One of the key goals of the initiative was to reach consumers directly through EU rules on information and agricultural policies.  In the area of information, food labeling came into effect on December 2014 and obligation to provide food nutrition will apply as of December 2016. The Commission also regulated advertising in order to endow consumers to make informed decisions. Guidelines for the promotion of physical activities were also endorsed, promoting healthier lifestyles.

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