Eating habits have clearly been deteriorating, as illustrated by the fact that in 2008, one in four children aged six to nine were overweight or obese, and by 2010 this figure rose to one in three children. We are clearly facing a rising phenomenon, whose immediate and future consequences shape a worrying outcome for these children and society as a whole.
Indeed, children who are overweight or obese are at greater risk of poor health later in life. The likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and possibly die prematurely also increase. Every year, 2.8 million citizens lose their lives to weight-related diseases. In addition to causing much suffering, obesity and overweight also have a financial impact. Member States dedicate an estimated 7% of their healthcare budgets to treat weight-related problems.
This initiative goes hand in hand with the principles of the European action plan targeting childhood obesity jointly developed by EU countries in 2013. The action plan puts forward initiatives to: support a healthy start in life, promote healthier environments, especially in schools and preschools; restrict marketing and advertising for children, inform and empower families, encourage physical activities, and increase research. As such, the action plan adds up to ongoing initiatives aiming at reducing salt, fats, added sugar in processed food, and promoting balanced diets and active lifestyles.
Some countries, such as the UK, have introduced a ‘sugar tax’, and I am frequently asked my opinion on such measures. Taxation is of course a matter of national competence, but as European Commissioner for health I am naturally in favour of any measure that leads to healthier lifestyles and reduces the burden of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Above all I think tackling childhood obesity requires a multifaceted approach. We need education on how to keep ourselves and our families healthy and ward off disease. After all, healthy home-cooked food is often cheaper than packaged food. We also need clear information about the ingredients and nutritional value of the food we eat. Finally, we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice. We need our food to have less salt, less fat and less sugar. And we also need to make such food available everywhere, to everybody, at affordable prices. I am confident that our current efforts with Member States and stakeholders on Food reformulation and innovation will contribute towards this aim.