Speech: WHO European Ministerial Conference on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020
4 July 2013, Vienna, Austria
Mr President, excellencies, honourable ministers, distinguished delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, allow me to thank the Government of Austria for hosting this WHO European Ministerial Conference on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020.
Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity have a high impact on health that is still growing in many countries in the European Region. The rise in childhood obesity is a particular concern.
We all recognize the negative impact on the quality of life and well-being of the individual and of society as a whole, as well as the high burden placed on health systems and the economy.
I therefore believe it is crucial to revisit and revitalize the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, known as the Istanbul Charter.
In the European Region, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) cause more than 8 in every 10 deaths and 77% of the disease burden. They are linked by common risk factors, but their distribution shows great inequalities, reflecting a social gradient.
Underlying determinants of health, such as diet and physical activity, give us excellent opportunities for intervention.
I am sure that, by the end of this Conference, you will agree to take coordinated and decisive action to prevent and tackle obesity and related NCDs. This means supporting food systems that improve health, promote sustainability and ensure equity. By doing that you are putting in action our new European policy framework for health and well-being, Health 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen, measures to reduce diet-related NCDs need the engagement of the whole of society. These measures are not only good for health but will also help boost the economy and benefit the environment.
Yes, we need to invest in information. We need engaged and informed citizens. But we also need the state to use all its powers to create a healthful environment, notably by acting on food production, consumption, marketing, availability, access and price.
Furthere, together we need to tackle nutrition and physical activity throughout the life-course, and the root causes of obesity.
All over the world people are increasingly eating industrialized, highly processed food. The European Region is no exception. We need healthier options to be made available and affordable.
We are confronted with challenges from not just the tobacco industry but also other powerful industries, such as the food industry.
Industry also has a role to play. I call upon it not merely to seek voluntary agreements that limit the power of governments to regulate but truly to engage with product reformulation, improving labelling and marketing products in a way that makes industry part of the solution.
Again, I would like to recall the United Nations political declaration on NCDs, which identified prevention as the most important dimension of the global response to these costly, deadly and demanding diseases.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I recently launched a regional report on the marketing of food to children, I reaffirmed my strong belief that the trends, especially in childhood obesity, can be reversed if we take the necessary steps, now.
I stand by those words and I look forward to working with you in moving this agenda forward.