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Tackling obesity and Non Communicable Diseases

Prevention: An urgent need

A healthier diet and more physical activity

To overcome the epidemic of chronic diseases, WHO recommends in the "WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health", to improve lifestyle by promoting healthy diet, more physical activity, and implementing smoking cessation programmes in all socio-economical settings (WHO, 2004).

According to WHO, approximately 80 % of cases of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes - and 40% of cancers - could be prevented by a healthy diet, regular physical activity and giving up smoking, which is responsible for at least 5 million deaths a year.

At European Level, On 15th March 2005, Marcos Kyprianou (Former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection) announced the launch of a European diet and exercise action platform to counteract obesity:

"The EU action platform we're currently launching is Europe's contribution
to the fight against this problem.

Businesses, civil society and the public authorities must work together
to arrest the advance of obesity in our children ".

At the beginning of 2007, in the White Paper entitled "A strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues", the European Commission defined an integrated European initiative - both at national and local levels - to promote community strategies for the fight against obesity (Commission of European Communities, 2007).

Obesity, first and foremost a lifestyle related behavioural pathology

Obesity has been broadly documented as a multi-factoral epidemic, related to social, economic and environmental determinants of people's lifestyles. This is also why it is of high importance to involve all stakeholders in the prevention of this major public health issue, so that healthy choices are more accessible and easy for individuals.

To be effective, prevention measures should:

  • Be adopted at an early stage:

50% of children who are obese at the age of 6 will remain so for the rest of their lives. This rate increases to 66 % for children who are obese at the age of 10.

It is essential to act as soon as possible towards children and family environments, because it is easier to change habits from childhood onwards. This is also the age when children are very receptive to the advice they may be given, both in terms of upbringing generally and food and diet knowledge specifically.

However, it is not only a matter of focusing on obesity, by simply talking about lifestyles, but it is also important to promote new and varied foods and putting down some markers in terms of a balanced diet. As regards to the fight against sedentary lifestyle, this is above all a question of promoting daily physical activity, not necessarily practising a sport.

  • Involve families and society

Preventing childhood obesity involves the family unit and society as a whole. Childhood obesity can be prevented and is largely linked with the major changes that have taken place in our lifestyle in the last decades.

It is possible to create the environment that encourages families to adopt healthier lifestyles - combining balanced diet and physical activity.

The EPODE programme aims at preventing a child from becoming overweight and obese by acting on the behaviour of the whole family,
changing its environment and social norms.