N° 48 | September 2010

WHO European Region recert developments in nutrition, physical activity and obesity

The double burden of disease associated with poor nutrition (malnutrition to obesity) continues to grow on a global scale. Poor diet, overweight and obesity contribute to a large proportion of noncommunicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. National surveys in most countries indicate excessive fat intake, low fruit and vegetable intake and an increasing problem of obesity.

Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. Its prevalence has tripled in many countries since the 1980s and the numbers affected continue to rise at an alarming rate, particularly children. Paradoxically undernutrition is now combined with an escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity – “globesity” – which is increasing in many parts of the world. If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders.

Most Member States in the WHO European Region now have government-approved policies dealing with nutrition and food safety and policy developments indicate that nutrition and food safety span different government sectors and involve both public and private actors. Both societies and governments need to act to curb the epidemic.

WHO has adopted several strategic documents to implement an effective strategy for change such as the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (2004), the Charter on Counteracting Obesity (2006) and the WHO European Action Plan on Food and Nutrition Policy (2007–2012). A WHO policy framework guides and supports Member States in taking action to reduce the double disease burden at population level.

In 2008, the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and consumers set up a collaborative project on monitoring progress on improving nutrition and physical activity and preventing obesity in the European Union (EU). The monitoring is related to the implementation of the WHO policy framework on nutrition: “Charter on counteracting obesity and the WHO Action Pan on Food and Nutrition Policy”. The project includes different work packages such as surveillance, policy, regional and local initiatives and the integrated web-based database on nutrition and physical activity data which brings together all the policies and projects in the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region related to nutrition and physical activity. This new database will be able to show the progress of the implementation of the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity.

Action Networks in Europe

To support the implementation of the WHO Action Plan on Food and Nutrition Policy, action networks, consisting of groups of countries committed to implementing specific actions, have been set up to cover the following areas.

Reducing marketing pressure on children

The European network on reducing marketing pressure on children consists of countries in the WHO European Region that want to work together to find ways to reduce the marketing pressure on children of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and beverages. This Action network is lead by Norway.

Reducing salt intake in the population

The aim of the European network on salt is to share expériences between the member countries regarding salt reduction efforts and monitoring of salt intake in the population, provide background information and material and act as a resource for technical expertise. The UK is the leading country of this network.

WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI)

The network is supported by Portugal and Italy and the results of the first round of data collection will be presented in late September 2010.

Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI)

This initiative started as a global initiative and the WHO Regional
Office for Europe has assisted in its development through the
participation in the pilot-testing by 11 European countries. The
Netherlands is the leading country.

Hospital nutrition

Recently several Member States addressed this issue and WHO is
exploring how to prioritize action. Israel has offered to be the
leading country.

Nutrition and Health Inequalities

WHO Member States decided to set up a new action network in the area of nutrition and health inequalities. Due to the political and public health priorities surrounding inequalities, Member States agreed on the importance of acting within nutrition. Portugal will lead the network.

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