A recent WHO Europe Report, presenting an update on the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to children in the period 2012–2013, highlights increasing obesity rates in children. The overview about nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity in all 53 countries within the European Region, emphasises diverging obesity prevalence rates and the need for joint action to implement necessary policies on all levels, integrated in the WHO policy framework for health.

According to a WHO Europe Report, overweight has gone through a process of normalisation, which needs to be prevented through convergent policy action in the European region. Nowadays, 27% of 13-year-olds and 33% of 11-year olds are overweight according to the WHO Europe Report. Physical activity and a healthy nutrition are often lacking, which may have health consequences during childhood, but could become even more severe during adulthood. Chronic diseases in later life years could be the outcome of non-action earlier in life. The alarming obesity rates clearly mirror the lack of engagement most EU Member States demonstrate at the moment.

The country’s profiles on nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity in all 53 countries within the European Region also demonstrate diverging obesity rates– among 11-year-old boys and girls, the prevalence of overweight was highest in Greece (33%), Portugal (32%), Ireland (30%) and Spain (30%) and lowest in the Netherlands (13%) and Switzerland (11%). The profiles were launched at a conference in Athens, Greece at the opening event for the Greek Presidency of the European Union (EU). In 23 out of 36 countries, more than 30% of boys and girls aged 15 years and over are not getting enough physical activity. Among adults, women’s rates of insufficient physical activity range from 16% in Greece and 17% in Estonia to 71% in Malta and 76% in Serbia.

These diverging obesity rates have to be tackled jointly, supporting especially the most vulnerable on national, regional and local levels. Actions needs to be put in place instead of neglecting the apparent health problems of our future generation. As European countries differ in their policy actions – while Northern European countries and France have already implemented important policy measures to prevent obesity, others are still lacking important policies. The WHO policy framework for health proposes a whole government approach and intersectoral initiatives in line with Health 2020. Policy measures need to be implemented for schools to promote consumption of fruit and vegetables, together with lunch initiatives and taxation on foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Tighter controls of advertising, sound systems for surveillance and monitoring, and action to promote physical activity, especially among children have to be realised. Member States have to act quickly – we cannot watch the next generation suffering from obesity due to a lack of physical activity and unhealthy nutrition.

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