European health ministers pledge to fight obesity

Copenhagen and Vienna, 5 July 2013

In the WHO European Region, over 50% of people are overweight or obese and noncommunicable diseases cause 77% of the disease burden. At the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020, held in Vienna, Austria, ministers of health have renewed their commitment to turning this alarming tide by adopting a declaration calling for evidence-based solutions from across the Region. WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab said: “Putting this declaration into practice will mean that Europe embarks on a new wave of policy innovation to reduce obesity and promote health.”

The ministers pledged to improve monitoring of the impact of the problem, and to act more effectively to address the root causes of obesity and to inform and empower their citizens to make healthy choices. The actions they explored included:

  • reducing the pressure of marketing on children to consume foods high in fat, sugar and salt;
  • ensuring that the food industry is less a part of the problem and truly contributes to its solution, using an appropriate blend of regulation and voluntary agreements;
  • monitoring more intensively key issues such as overweight and obesity – conditions that affect almost 30% of children wherever they are measured in Europe – across different groups in society; and
  • fostering healthier food choices through such means as innovations in labelling, pricing and reformulating products and in the promotion of shorter farm-to-table food chains that make local produce affordable and accessible.

Throughout their discussions, the ministers noted the synergies between such policies and national concerns to promote well-being, generate revenue and protect the environment.

Next steps

The Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020 underlines the importance of cooperation across sectors: involving not only health but also other ministries in initiatives ranging from food-product reformulation and labelling, to school meals and international trade. It builds on the commitments of the 2006 European Charter on Counteracting Obesity and the new WHO policy framework, Health 2020.

The WHO Regional Director for Europe called for action in her closing statement: “Chronic noncommunicable diseases have now overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality. This is not the time for complacency; we need governments to see the benefits of taking strong, coordinated action to counter the tide of disease and death caused by eating poorly and being physically inactive. The Vienna Declaration is a stride forward in the cause of better health.”

For further information, contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
Tel.: +45 51 97 92 43 (mobile)

Stephanie Brickman
Communications Officer
Tel.: +45 45 33 68 44,
       + 45 40 87 48 76 (mobile)