EU nutrition and public health
With regard to public health, the Community’s role is to complement national policies, to encourage cooperation between the Member States and to lend support to their action when it comes to improving public health, preventing human disease, and reduc-ing risks to human health. In keeping with the prin-ciple of subsidiarity, Community action in the field of public health is designed to fully respect the respon-sibilities of the Member States for the organization and delivery of health services and medical care.
In 2000 the European Commission adopted a Communication on the Health Strategy of the Euro-pean Community. This described how the Commis-sion was working to achieve a coherent and effective approach to health issues across all the different policy areas and emphasized that health services must meet the population’s needs and concerns, in a context characterized by the challenge of aging and the growth of new medical techniques, as well as the more inter-national dimension of health care (contagious dis-eases, environmental health, increased mobility of persons, services and goods). A new Health Strategy for the EU 2008–2013 was adopted in 2007. The Strat egy encompasses work not only in the health sector but across all policy areas. In the nutrition arena, the scientific community has estimated that an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle might be responsible for up to one-third of the cases of cancers, and for approximately one-third of premature deaths due to cardiovascular disease in Europe. Nutrition and phys-ical activity are key determinants for the prevalence of obesity, which continues to rise in the EU among children and adults.
In terms of nutrition the two main objectives are to collect quality information and make it accessible to people, professionals, and policy-makers, and to estab-lish a network of Member State expert institutes to improve dietary habits and physical activity habits in Europe. The long-term objective is to work toward the establishment of a coherent and comprehensive com-munity strategy on diet, physical activity, and health, which will be built progressively. It will include the mainstreaming of nutrition and physical activity into all relevant policies at local, regional, national, and European levels and the creation of the necessary sup-porting environments. At Community level, such a strategy would cut across a number of Community policies and needs to be actively supported by them. It would also need to actively engage all relevant stake-holders, including the food industry, civil society, and the media. Finally, it would need to be based on sound scientific evidence showing relations between certain dietary patterns and risk factors for certain chronic diseases. The European Network on Nutrition and Physical Activity, which the Commission established, will give advice during the process. The Community approach is inspired by the WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health, which was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly.
In 2005, the Commission launched a new forum, called “Diet, Physical Activity and Health – a Euro-pean Platform for Action.” The platform brought together all relevant players active at European level that were willing to enter into binding and verifiable commitments that could help to halt and reverse current obesity trends. This included retailers, food processors, the catering industry, the advertising busi-ness, consumer and health NGOs, the medical profes-sions, and the EU presidency. It enables all individual obesity-related initiatives to be more promptly shared among potential partners and across the EU as a whole. In December 2005 the Commission published a Green Paper called “Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: a European dimension for the pre-vention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases.” This was followed in May 2007 by the Commission’s white paper outlining strategies/initiatives in the area of diet, physical activity, and health aimed at promot-ing good health and quality of life and reducing risks of disease. Nutrition is clearly recognized as having a key role in public health and, together with lifestyle, has a central position within the strategy and actions of the Community in public health.