New European Food and Nutrition Action Plan adopted

On 18 September 2014 the 64th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe unanimously adopted the new European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020. Health ministers and representatives from the 53 countries of the Region gave their overwhelming support to the Action Plan and the priority policies that it describes which address obesity, diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and all other forms of malnutrition.

Of the six WHO regions, the European Region is the most severely affected by 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.

Highlighting priority actions

In order to respond to this situation, the Action Plan recommends that countries consider actions to:

  • Create healthy food and drink environments
  • Promote healthy diets throughout the lifecourse
  • Reinforce health systems to promote healthy diets
  • Engage other sectors in delivering change

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 has highlighted the need to promote healthy diets and prevent obesity both at the global and European level for more than a decade. Following the 2011 UN Political Declaration on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, the WHO developed a new Global Action Plan on NCDs and Member States adopted a set of global voluntary targets, including a 0% increase in obesity among adults by 2025. At the regional level, WHO Europe has provided leadership through several food and nutrition action plans. The 2014 Vienna Declaration on Nutrition on Nutrition and NCDs provided a strong mandate for WHO’s continuing work in this area.