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EU Commissioner highlights our work on healthy eating

An article in the Huffington Post by Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, gives the Together and We Love Eating projects an important mention, recognising their unique approach of bringing healthier options to EU citizens – rather than expecting citizens to seek these options out. Andriukaitis focuses specifically on reaching young citizens in urban areas (full article below):

Disease prevention in urban areas: EU cities can be a hub of health promotion

Vytenis Andriukaitis European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

(First published by Huffington Post on September, 19 2016)

Last June, I was having a public discussion with citizens in Eindhoven, Netherlands, together with Mary-Ann Schreurs, the Vice-Mayor of the city. I hold those dialogues regularly, in different EU Member States, on the issues that I am in charge of at the European Commission level - health and food safety but also broader European topics. These public discussions are never easy but I appreciate the exercise. It brings food for thought and gives birth to interesting ideas.

That day in Eindhoven, a young woman told me: we all know that prevention is better than cure and preventing people from getting sick should therefore be the obvious goal, but my son’s school has two vending machines full of sugary drinks and fatty foods that are easily accessible to him. I can do little to control what he is buying with his pocket money. Aren’t we in a major contradiction - we expect our kids to eat healthy but we make sugar and fat easily available and cheap in the places where they spend most of their time without us?

She is right. Add marketing and advertising and you have the recipe for a whole generation of children growing fat for life. Add the ageing population and rise in chronic diseases - many of which could be prevented if we tackled risk factors and promoted healthy habits - and you can be sure that no healthcare system in the world will be able to cope with resultant costs. I will never tire repeating that prevention and promotion are key if we want to change this catastrophic forecast. Where better to put these in place if not in urban areas given that we estimate that by 2020, almost 80% of EU citizens will be living in cities?

In the EU, we have already started sowing the seeds. Several pan-european initiatives are underway to improve quality of life in our cities. For example, the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities, aims to improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions such as including pedestrian zones and cycle paths in city planning to encourage people to move more.

The EU Health Programme and the European Parliament co-finance various projects with an urban angle that promote healthier diets to children, adults and elderly citizens. These projects are part of a wider, multi-faceted approach to tackling obesity, poor nutrition and inactivity.

Since 2007, the European Commission is working on initiatives across various policy areas to promote good health and reduce the risks associated with poor nutrition and lack of exercise. For example, the school fruit scheme provides school children with fruit and vegetables, encouraging school children to replace sugary snacks with healthier options.

In addition, the 2014 Action Plan on Childhood obesity aims to halt the rise of childhood obesity by 2020. The plan includes promoting healthier diets in school and pre-school, and making the healthy option the easy option, amongst its objectives. In parallel, the Commission is working together with Member States on the common objective of reformulating food products to contain less salt, fats or sugars. The aim of our work in that field is to help ensure that healthier food is available and affordable to all across the European Union.

We also have two interesting EU-financed projects which are currently being tested in urban settings. “Together” and “We Love Eating” both benefit from the multiplier effect of community action within cities.

A healthy lifestyle starts from the earliest age, and the Together pilot project promotes healthy diets to pregnant and breastfeeding women in Manchester, Murcia, Odense and Kolding, Prague and Varna. “Together” makes a special effort to address health inequalities by reaching out to young mothers, women on lower incomes and ethnic minorities - as these are groups that do not always benefit from equal access to health promotion initiatives. The project involves diverse community actors such as social workers, midwives, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, to ensure that it brings about real, sustainable change.

We Love Eating further promotes healthy eating amongst three main target groups: children, pregnant women and older people, in seven small cities across the EU, such as, Bradford, Roncq, Granollers and Cluj-Napoca. We Love Eating aims to teach people to enjoy healthy food, it encourages conscious eating and more physical activity in daily life, and offers realistic and fun ways to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Once again, this community-based project makes a special effort to address people from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Indeed, many people in the EU are not able to afford quality food and suffer the negative health effects of under nutrition. Since around 88 million tonnes of food is wasted in the EU every year, there is no excuse for any of our citizens going hungry. Preventing food waste is a moral and ethical obligation, I wrote about this earlier and you can read it here I am sure that the question raised that day, in Eindhoven, is topical for many parents. That woman is certainly not alone wanting to prevent her son growing fat for life. But more we raise these questions and discussions around the issue, the more aware our citizens become. A few months after our discussion, the Vice-Mayor initiated a project called ‘Health Deal’ where neighbouring cities come together to exchange knowledge, insights and build partnerships that put health in the core of urban development.

EU cities have the potential to be hubs of health promotion. The more EU cities work together and learn from each other, the more we can all benefit from targeted, sustainable community action that brings together businesses, activists, charities, schools, mums, dads, midwives, chefs, children and older citizens - to promote healthy diets and physical activity and to ensure that good food fills the stomachs of people in need rather than our dustbins.