EU health ministers call for more effective policies to tackle childhood obesity

Europe’s health ministers believe there is “ample evidence” to justify tougher restrictions junk food advertising, especially online.

Members of the employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs council (EPSCO) also criticised the self-regulatory approach favoured by many countries.

In new guidelines to tackle childhood obesity, the council said the focus should be on both lack of physical activity and unhealthy diets.

Member states should make better use of labelling laws and consider the introduction of regulatory measures given that existing policies to tackle obesity “have not been sufficiently effective”.

“There is ample evidence to justify more effective actions on marketing of foods which are high in energy, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt,” the ministers agreed. “Experience and evidence point to the fact that voluntary action may require regulatory measures in order to be more effective.”

EPSCO highlighted the “urgent need to respond to the new challenge of marketing and advertising via online platforms and social media where communication messages are often more targeted at individual children and more difficult to monitor”.

The World Health Organisation has identified digital marketing as a particular issue, with children exposed to “countless numbers of hidden digital marketing techniques promoting foods high in fat, sugar and salt”.

By 2025, there will be an estimated 16.3 million children in the EU28 who are overweight, of which 4.8 million will be obese.

Campaigners at the European Public Health Alliance said the fact that childhood obesity is still rising shows that political will from European health ministers is not enough to tackle the crisis.

“Childhood obesity is a cross-cutting issue and therefore would benefit from a horizontal approach, involving not just health ministers, but their colleagues concerned with the economy, trade, agriculture, education, employment, environment and culture – the latter particularly on marketing and advertising, including via digital media.”

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