Of the six WHO regions, the European Region is the most severely affected by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Excess body weight (BMI >25), excessive consumption of energy, saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt, as well as low consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are leading risk factors. In 46 of the 53 countries of the Region, more than 50% of the population is pre-obese or obese.
Overweight and obesity are also highly prevalent among children and adolescents in European countries; on average, one in every three children aged 6–9 years is overweight or obese in countries participating in the WHO Europe Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative. A new European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020 has been developed to tackle these issues head-on, and ultimately significantly reduce the burden of preventable diet-related NCDs, obesity and all other forms of malnutrition still prevalent in the WHO European Region.
Objectives of the Action Plan
The Action Plan encourages action in a range of policy areas through a whole-of-government, health-in-all-policies approach. The goal is to improve food system governance and overall quality of the population's diet and nutrition to ultimately promote health and well-being by:
- creating healthy food and drink environments;
- promoting the gains of a healthy diet throughout life, especially for the most vulnerable groups;
- reinforcing health systems to promote healthy diets;
- supporting surveillance, monitoring, evaluation and research; and
- strengthening governance, alliances and networks to ensure a health-in-all policies approach.
Priority actions include restrictions on the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children, easy-to-understand front of pack labelling, and reformulation of food products to improve nutritional composition, such as through salt, saturated fat and sugar reduction. Notably, the action plan calls for a 'trans-fat free Europe', to be achieved through policies that ban or virtually eliminate trans fats from the food supply.
The action plan also signals a renewed effort to promote good nutrition among infants and children, including through the promotion and protection of exclusive breastfeeding to six months and the provision of healthy food in school settings. Finally, recognizing the importance of addressing the needs of people who are already overweight or obese, nutrition counselling and body weight management is also recommended in primary health care.
WHO/Europe supports individual Member States and coordinates international work to implement the Action Plan. The new plan was endorsed in September 2014 at the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.