N° 37 | November 2018

Effective policies for promoting healthy dietary patterns

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Recent years have seen significant global commitments on diet and nutrition, reflecting greater awareness of the importance of fighting non-communicable diseases (NCDs). However, progress on policies to improve European diets remains insufficient and patchy.

European developments on nutrition and diet-related NCDs Despite slow and disappointing lack of progress in policies at the European level, particularly on nutrient profiles and marketing of unhealthy foods to children, there have been a few promising initiatives on trans fats and healthy school procurement.

The World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe has developed several policies for the European region:

  • Health 2020- A European policy framework and strategy for the 21st century aimed at improving health for all and reducing health inequalities;
  • Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and NCDs making a statement to take action on obesity and to prioritize work on healthy diets for children1;
  • European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 to improve food system governance and the overall quality of the Europeans’ diet and nutritional status2;
  • A Nutrient Profile Model to support European countries in their efforts to restrict marketing of foods high in fat, sugars or salt (HFSS) to children launched in 2015 by the WHO Regional Office for Europe3.
  • And two consecutive Action Plans for the Prevention and Control of NCDs having as areas of intervention:
  • Promoting healthy consumption via fiscal and marketing policies: tobacco, alcohol, food;
  • Product reformulation and improvement: salt, fats and sugars;
  • Salt reduction;
  • Promoting active living and mobility;
  • Promoting clean air4,5.Some European countries have developed their own policies, specifically on food taxes, reformulation, trans-fat, front-of-pack nutrition labelling, food in schools and marketing to children (Table 1).

The European Heart Network’s (EHN) recommendations for food and nutrition policies for cardiovascular health

In order to minimise diet-related cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Europe, EHN proposes a package of recommendations. (Figure 1)

It includes three clusters of specific recommendations that influence food systems by impacting what food is supplied and consumer demand for foods, as well as altering foods’ composition. These are supported by three overreaching recommendations.

Table 1: Examples of development in policies in certain European countries

Labelling Reformulation Marketing to
children
Food in public institutions Food taxations
FR: Nutri-Score
FOP* nutrition labelling scheme
introduced by government to indicate overall nutritional quality
of foodsUK: Voluntary FOP traffic light
labelling scheme recommended by government

Scandinavia:
The voluntary Keyhole labelling
scheme is in use

FI: Heart Symbol to endorse
“better-for-you” choices

Trans-fat
Legislation to limit trans-fat: AT, CS, DK, HU, IS, LV, NOSalt reduction
Voluntary, often focusing on bread:
AT, BE, CZ, ES, FR, GR, HR, HU,
IE, IT, NO, SI

Mandatory, in bread:
BE, BG, GR,
NL, PT

IR: Prohibited advertising of HFSS foods during children’s TV and radio programs and also limited HFSS food advertising to 25% of all advertising.

ES & PL:
Regulated
advertising in
schools and preschools

Legislation to improve nutritional quality of food in
schools:
BG, EN, HU, LT, LV, NL, PL, SE, SI, WAL
FR: Taxes on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks.

Taxes on soft drinks:
BE, EE, ES, HU, PT, UK
* Front of pack

Figure 1: EHN's package of recommendations for food & nutrition policies for cardiovascular health

  1. WHO Europe. Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020 (2013)
  2. WHO Europe. European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 (2014).
  3. WHO Europe. Nutrient profile model (2015).
  4. WHO Europe. Action Plan for implementation of the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2012- 2016 (2011).
  5. WHO Europe. Action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases in the WHO European Region (2016).
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