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European Charter Offers Turning Point in Struggle Against Obesity

Armen Hareyan's picture

The European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, the first of its kind in this area, is being launched in Copenhagen, in the presence of Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patroness of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The Charter was officially adopted by Member States of the WHO European Region in November 2006 at the European Ministerial Conference on Counteracting Obesity in Istanbul.

The goal of the Charter is clearly set out: "Visible progress, especially relating to children and adolescents, should be achievable in most countries in the next 4-5 years and it should be possible to reverse the trend by 2015 at the latest". Reaching this goal requires specific, targeted action across many sectors. The launch of the Charter has been organized to focus on the next steps. The Charter identifies key areas of action that include: reducing marketing pressure, particularly towards children; promoting breastfeeding; reducing free (particularly added) sugars, fat and salt in manufactured products; adequate nutrition labelling of foods; and promoting cycling and walking through better urban design and transport policies.

Speaking about the Charter at the launch, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patroness of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, says, "I hope that the action it produces will serve as a turning point to adapt the environment we live in and ultimately enable everyone in the WHO European Region to make healthy choices".

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Obesity in Europe

Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. Half of all adults and one in five children in the WHO European Region are overweight. A third of these are already obese and numbers are increasing rapidly. Obesity reduces the length and quality of people's lives. The epidemic causes one million deaths a year in the Region and seriously hampers economic development.

Countries throughout the WHO European Region are taking additional action to counteract obesity. The number of countries in the Region with a national policy document covering food and nutrition has risen from 24 to 45 since 1994. Yet nutrition goals have not yet been achieved, and only a few policies deal with physical activity. The Charter provides political guidance and a strategic framework for strengthening action against obesity.

WHO is supporting these efforts further by facilitating the development of a European action plan, covering nutrition and physical activity, and internationally comparable monitoring mechanisms. The action plan is expected to be released in late 2007.