Obesity -a far greater death threat than terrorism
After the adoption of the Ries-report on “Promoting healthy diets and physical activity” we ask the Commission to put forward a package of proposals to eliminate any EU support to overweight and obesity and to make possible and support special efforts in the member states to promote healthy products and a healthy lifestyle at the expense of unhealthy food and lifestyle.
• The tax rules on VAT and charges should be adjusted in order to make it possible for the countries to introduce differentiated VAT and charges on healthy and unhealthy products. It should be possible to have a lower or zero rate for fruit, vegetables, fish, selected healthy products, exercise and equipment for exercise, as well as higher rates for unhealthy products.
• Common minimum charges ought to be introduced and implemented by the member states for refined sugar and animal fat. As a general rule unhealthy products must be more expensive than similar healthy alternatives.
• The rules for agriculture should be changed so that subsidies for the production, marketing and export of animal fat, refined sugar, alcohol and tobacco, can no longer be given, except for a phasing out period. The rules for fruit and vegetables shall no longer allow subsidies for destruction and keeping prices high. Instead the EU could subsidise fruit and vegetables for schools and social institutions.
• The rules for grants to school milk must be changed, so that only the light products without added refined sugar or artificial sugar may receive grants.
• All EU working groups concerning food, alcohol and tobacco should include experts from health organisations and/or health authorities.
• The rules concerning labelling of food could be supplemented for example by recognisable colour marking, where red means unhealthy or eat less, yellow means acceptable in moderate quantity and green means healthy or eat relatively more. The Commission could call ideas for a common visual labelling.
• Food companies, bigger restaurants, canteens and chain shops should indicate the value of calories at least as visible as the price, per portion or per product.
• Article 152 of the Treaty has introduced a high level of health as a tranversifying so-called horizontal principle to be used in all EU legislation. New draft legislation therefor have to be accompanied with information about possible effects on the public health. Health Impact Assessments must be obligatory for all new major laws.
• Existing rules and subsidies for development, research, structural funds and other initiatives supported by the EU should be examined systematically to counter obesity and promote health.
• All member states are encouraged to prepare more effective national action plans for prevention, education, information and the combating of overweight and obesity. They may include rules and incentives for the serving of cold water to all meals instead of soft drinks and alcohol, free access to water fountains in schools and institutions and in the public.
• The European and national institutions could show the way forward by serving healthy and ecological products. The European Parliament could start changing our own menus to be more healthy.
• The effort in the member states could be co-ordinated via the Lisbon method for voluntary coordination, eg. by using score boards with the best pratice for encouraging health.
• An increased effort could be kick-started at a special European summit on health.
Health for all is a fundamental human right according to article 25 in the World Declaration on Human Rights. It has been implemented in the EU Treaty as a transverse principle and should thus be the basis for all sectorial policies in the EU. If a policy causes less health, it should therefore be seen as and treated as a violation of the Treaty.
Overweight and obesity have become noticeable threats to our health, and today they are equally a threat to the public expenses.
Overweight cannot be fought effectively, if we continue to treat it just as an illness due to personal lifestyle. Obesity has become an epidemic of society, which can be effectively limited through organised efforts on all decision levels of the Union.
Education and information in schools have proven effective - but not enough. We have to use taxes, charges and price encouragements so the healthy food becomes cheaper than the unhealthy alternatives.
Relatively lower prices for fruit and vegetables alone can reduce overweight with 2-3 kilos, while particular taxation on animal fat and refined sugar might eliminate additional kilos.
A 10 % raise in tobacco prices may reduce tobacco smoking by 5 %, but up to 15 % among the youngsters.
We can save millions of lives and huge expenses for the health sector by a budgetary neutral re-arranging of taxes and charges.
In the EU, we should jointly begin removing all direct support of obesity and make possible the use of taxes and charges in order to make the healthy products cheaper than the unhealthy.
We should also make it illegal to advertise for unhealthy products for children since there is an unambiguous relationship between advertisement for unhealthy products and children’s demand for them.
Obesity has become a far greater death threat than terrorism and thus deserves to be treated just as seriously.