EU warns of obesity crisis

EUBRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Commission on Thursday hailed several food and beverage multinationals — often seen as culprits in obesity — for pledging to help fight the flab in Europe.

EU Public Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou praised, among others, Unilever NV, PepsiCo, The Coca Cola Company, McDonald's Corp. and Kraft Foods Inc. for committing to voluntary steps to reverse Europe's widening girth and promote physical fitness at a time when the number of overweight children in the EU is rising by 400,000 a year.

At a press conference with top executives of these companies, he said it was crucial food and drink companies cooperate in the fight against flab because the EU cannot legislate against products that are not dangerous.

f Europe wants to curb overweight, "we have to form public-private partnerships. We are all part of the problem — industry, parents, consumers, the authorities, doctors — and will have to be part of the solution."

Kyprianou said the European Commission has reaped 146 commitments from makers of soft drinks and fast food to reformulate their products by cutting sugar, fat and salt levels, make labels clearer, agree on common advertising norms and promote healthy lifestyles.

EU soft drink makers, for instance, have agreed not to advertise their products to children under 12 and to provide consumers with more information on the calorie content of their products.

"These commitments are good examples of concrete and verifiable action undertaken by industry to tackle obesity and overweight," said Kyprianou. He called on others to follow suit.

Kyprianou cited World Health Organization data showing that 20 percent of European children are overweight and that there ranks swell by 400,000 a year.

Obesity is more prevalent in southern Europe where traditional Mediterranean diets are giving way to more processed foods rich in fat, sugar and salt.

The WHO estimates that in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Malta more than 30 percent of children aged 7 to 11 are obese, compared to over 20 percent in Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Sweden and between 10 to 20 percent in France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Bulgaria.

Next week, the WHO and the EU jointly host a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, to place obesity high on European governments' agendas.

The European Commission released the findings of a Eurobarometer survey that said most Europeans consider themselves to be in good health, but that 38 percent feel they are overweight.

It said the vast majority believe "obesity in children has increased over the last five years" and that food advertising and promotion influences children's eating habits.

Approximately one in five respondents declared he or she had dieted over the last 12 months, either voluntarily or on their doctors advice.The survey's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

source - AP