Fight obesity earlier in life, says Environment Committee

Europe has almost 22 million overweight children, and a further 1.3 million will be overweight or obese by 2010, says the Environment Committee in a report, adopted on Tuesday, that calls for an earlier start to measures to prevent obesity. Remedies include clearer food labelling, better food in schools and kindergartens, restrictions on advertising unhealthy food to children, and VAT reductions for fruit and vegetables.

Overweight, obesity and diet-related disease are approaching epidemic proportions. Obesity already accounts directly for about 6% of health spending, but the indirect costs are much higher, says the report. Obesity is one of Europe's most serious public health problems, because it significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

The Environment Committee advocates a multi-level, comprehensive approach to fighting obesity, and points out that there are many European research, health, education and life-long learning programmes that can help to tackle this scourge.

Fight the fat early in life

Since childhood obesity correlates closely with obesity in adults, the Commission and other stakeholders should make fighting it their priority, says the report. School curricula should be designed to ensure that physical exercise and a balanced diet become part of every child's behaviour.
MEPs also want the quality and nutritional standards of school and kindergarden meals to be improved, inter alia by providing fresh fruit and vegetables in school vending machines. They encourage the move away from selling children in schools foods and drinks that are high in salt, sugar or fat (HSSF) and of poor nutritional value, sand say that sponsorship and advertising for HSSF products should be restricted and monitored.

Lower VAT rates for fruit and vegetables

MEPs call on Member States which have not yet done so to reduce VAT on fruit and vegetables, recalling that Community law authorises them to do so. Furthermore they want the Community texts in force to be amended to allow fruit and vegetables to benefit from a very low rate of VAT.