The prevalence of obesity in Europe has more than tripled in many countries since the 1980s, with a an increase in the rate of associated non-communicable diseases. According to estimates from the “Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases 2010” around 2.8 million deaths per year in the EU are due to causes associated with overweight and obesity.
Despite various national and EU initiatives the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity is increasing, reaching 1 out of 3 children aged 6-9 years old in Europe in 2010, with a wide variability between countries[i].
Physical inactivity and poor diet from birth (and even in utero) are important determinants of adiposity leading to overweight and obesity. They are also independently associated with various risk factors of non-communicable diseases that affect many Europeans (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and musculoskeletal disorders)[ii]. Furthermore, overweight and obesity may also have detrimental psychological and social consequences[iii].
Overweight and obesity are also an economic burden for national health systems, with up to 7%[iv] of the EU health budgets spent each year on diseases linked directly to obesity. Additional indirect costs resulting from productivity loss associated with health problems and premature death.
The EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020[v] aims to demonstrate the shared commitment of EU Member States to addressing childhood obesity, to set out priority areas for action and to propose ways of collectively keeping track of progress. Within the global frame of the EU Action plan on childhood obesity 2014-2020, and in close link with the European action plan for a nutrition and food policy 2015-2020, JANPA aims to contribute to halting the rise in overweight and obesity in children and adolescents by 2020 in EU.
Failure to halt the increase of children’s overweight and obesity or even reverse the trend threatens to have a highly negative impact on health and quality of life and to overwhelm national healthcare systems in the near future.
The multi-sectoral approach
Physical inactivity and poor diet are the most influential factors for the increases of overweight and obesity in Europe. Obesity is a complex problem, and its prevention needs a multi-sectoral approach. The critical elements of any program to reduce obesity are empowering people together with creating a supportive environment, in particular in kindergartens and schools, to make healthy behaviors and healthy options easier.
The JANPA joint action takes into consideration food and nutrition as well as the physical activity aspects within a multi-sectoral approach. Furthermore, JANPA offers a unique opportunity to collectively analyse selected actions and to discuss recommendations on best practices for childhood overweight and obesity prevention. This will also reinforce the links between the different national nutrition policies introduced by the EU Strategy on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related health issues.
Inequalities and unhealthy behaviours
The reduction of such social inequalities is a major concern for EU action plans, and it will be considered a cross-cutting subject of all the technical work packages of JANPA.
Overweight and obesity is related to socio-economic status: in most countries, overweight obesity rates have grown faster in low socio-economic groups. Many studies have demonstrated the link between obesity, unhealthy eating and drinking habits, sedentary lifestyle and low education or low socio-economic status.
The life course approach
Given that eating and physical activity habits are established at an early age, a life course approach is absolutely necessary. Early interventions can help children and their families to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. Promotion of healthy life-style for families during pregnancy breastfeeding and early infancy is essential for the future wellbeing. Adopting healthy habits when young and policies that support reducing the obesogenic environment are needed to reduce obesity.
[i] World Health Organisation. European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, COSI, round 2010.