The World Health Organization (WHO) warned about the bad diet of Europeans, which contains too much salt, sugar and trans-fatty acids and causes cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes, together accounting for 77% of all diseases and almost 86% of premature mortality.
Once considered a high-income country problem, overweight and obesity are now on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. In developing countries with emerging economies the rate of increase of childhood obesity has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries.
Therefore, Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General for Health and Food in the European Commission, on 16 February, during the WHO Better Food for Better Health workshop, expressed his concern about how socio-economic inequalities directly affect health, as healthy food is often very expensive and “consumers cannot buy what they can’t afford”. He said, the EU’s intention was to put more focus on the nutritional quality of cheaper foods in order to tackle that problem.
Improving diets by changing the composition of processed foods, food reformulation, is an important means to help reduce the prevalence of nutrition- and diet-related diseases. It is widely agreed that the food industry is a key stakeholder, which can highly contribute to promoting a healthier society, through innovation and the standardisation of products around Europe.
Moreover, Seychell believes there is room for further policy regulation in food labeling and reformulation because “clearly we should not see unhealthy diets just as a health issue. They are certainly crucial public health issues but they are also core economic and social issues and they should be seen as such”.
According to the WHO, obesity and related diseases are largely preventable by making the healthier choice of foods and regular physical activity the easiest choice, because more accessible, available and affordable. If individuals are undeniably responsible of their consumption, consumer associations emphasis on the fact that not every choice is a free choice.
Consequently, Ilaria Passarani, Head of the Food and Health Department of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), called for better labeling of healthy products and control of online advertisement for children for instance. In addition, she asked industries to be more consistent as some industries develop low-in-salt categories, while increasing the overall level of salt in their products.