We are all involved in obesity policies


A key element in the Amsterdam Treaty was the statement that “… high levels of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities…”

All policies and activities? Yes – because it is not enough to tell school children to eat better snacks or to tell parents they should read food labels carefully. Focussing on the individual will not solve the problem. We have to ask why that individual is at risk of obesity. We have to look at causes. We have to ask: Why?

Take physical activity. If children do not play outdoors, we must ask why. Is there too much traffic? Is there too much crime? If so, transport policies need to be changed. Crime and policing policies need review. Take bad diets. If people eat ‘junk’ food we must ask why. Is junk food cheaper, tastier and more appealing? If so, we need pricing and distribution policies. We need policies on food formulation, the use of cosmetic additives and portion sizes. We need menu labelling policies and school meal services policies, workplace catering policies, fast-food labelling policies.

These in turn imply policies about commercial investments, agricultural support, trade barriers and commodity price-fixing. Political leadership is needed to challenge the status quo. But political leaders will not challenge the status quo unless they have popular support. Popular support comes from us all, as voters, as workers and experts, as members of trade unions and professional bodies.

The Amsterdam Treaty was written when the mad cow disease crisis led to popular support for reform. It led to stronger public health polices and institutions to support them. The obesity crisis will affect many more of us. By showing our support for change we can get the policies we need. All of us together.

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