Launched in 2007, the Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related health issues provides an integrated framework for action intended to contribute to reducing ill-health due to poor nutrition, overweight and obesity in the EU. In 2012 the Strategy was evaluated by independent external evaluators to produce an Evaluation Report on its’ implementation process and impact between 2007-2011.
– Level of action
The report states that the Strategy contributed to strengthen and ‘inspire’ efforts to tackle poor nutrition, overweight and obesity-related health problems. The Strategy led to the development and implementation of legislation of some type in the key areas identified as priorities at the EU level (mostly around labeling and marketing of food). Through funding a variety of programmes and projects, the Strategy supported diverse goals such as building up and strengthening the evidence base for further policy-making and making healthy foods more available to specific target groups.
As one of the tools to implement the Strategy, the Commission set up the Diet Platform to facilitate engagement among stakeholders. Another tool that was set up to encourage action among the Member States was the High Level Group.
The overall evaluation shows that the majority of initiatives at the EU level as well as national levels addressed nutrition and related issues to a far greater extent than it did in promoting physical activity.
– Overall impact
The evaluators stated that progress has been made (to a varying extent) towards all the objectives defined in the scope of the Strategy as the actions carried out addressed several key determinants of overweight, obesity and related health issues. Due to ‘soft’ competence of the EU and the limited resources the contribution of the measures taken has not led to major changes in most cases – as the levels of obesity and overweight continue to be high and growing in the EU. The actions relied primarily on information provision and education, limited interventions in specific environments (eg. schools), and voluntary actions by the food industry and other private actors.
Despite many stakeholders’ wish for more intrusive measures, in particular stricter regulation and/or fiscal measures in order to combat overweight and obesity, because of a lack of consensus among Member States on the desirability of such measures, the EU cannot be expected to “work actively to encourage them“.
With a view to the future, there is a risk that interest in continuing to deal with the issue may disappear at the EU level. Also the economic crisis altered the policy landscape since the Strategy’s adoption. Many Member States and stakeholders (public and private) face budgetary and other constraints in all initiatives aimed at addressing nutrition and physical activity. Last but not least, rising inequalities increase health gaps as scoio-economically disadvantaged groups are more likely to have unhealthy diets and be physically inactive.
All in all the Recommendations from the evaluation report are:
- the Strategy should continue to play an active role and facilitate an integrated and holistic approach to policy in this area
- it should continue to both pursue action itself and seek to engage and build partnerships with other stakeholders, including Member States and the private sector
- substantial efforts are needed to re-focus efforts and collaborate more on physical activity promotion; and carefully consider on effects on lower socio-economic groups, to ensure that initiatives do not further exacerbate health inequalities.