“Health in all policies” approach to improve nutrition in Portugal

The Portuguese government has taken commendable steps to improve nutrition and prevent obesity with the launch of its new Integrated Strategy for the Promotion of Healthy Eating (EIPAS) on 29 December 2017.

The Strategy contains a suite of measures agreed by an interministerial working group comprising the ministries of finance, internal affairs, education, health, economy, agriculture, forestry and rural development, and the sea. It is closely aligned with the recommendations contained in the WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 as well as in the European Union Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014–2020. This is the first time that such a “health in all policies” approach has been taken to the topic of nutrition in Portugal – an approach which incorporates health into policies across sectors and systematically takes into account the health and health-system implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts to improve population health and health equity.

Informed by the latest data from the landmark Portuguese national nutrition and dietary intake survey (a first for the country), the Strategy focuses on the main nutritional issues challenging the Portuguese population – the excess intake of foods high in saturated and trans fatty acids, free sugars and salt. It aims to reinforce the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet, high in fruits and vegetables. The measures aim to:

  • create healthy food and drink environments, including in key settings such as schools and health-care facilities;
  • improve the nutritional composition of manufactured foods through national food product reformulation initiatives;
  • ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice, through improved front of pack labelling and credible, valid information to the public;
  • expand nutrition literacy among the population, particularly among low socioeconomic groups, via improved knowledge and skills as well as supportive health-care professionals;
  • use innovative approaches and entrepreneurial know-how to have the greatest impact.

With this new Strategy, Portugal is well positioned to take a leading role in the WHO European Region on many of these fronts, and the proposed measures are strongly aligned with WHO guidance and recommendations. WHO has previously issued guidance in this area, encouraging governments to enforce the WHO Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, explore the option of introducing fiscal measures to influence consumption of foods, promote the use of interpretative front of pack labelling, and to extend school food standards to other public institutions, namely hospitals, as well as reinforce food reformulation initiatives. WHO commends the government on this comprehensive initiative and will support with implementation of proposed policies as required.