Members' Research Service By / June 4, 2015

Obesity policy in the EU

Written by Adela Maghear and Teresa Lopez Garcia At the present time, more than half (52%) of the adult population in the…

© kikkerdirk / Fotolia
Written by Adela Maghear and Teresa Lopez Garcia
Obesity policy in the EU
© kikkerdirk / Fotolia

At the present time, more than half (52%) of the adult population in the European Union (EU) is overweight or obese (2012 data ). Persons who are overweight or obese have excessive weight which can lead to important health risks due to a high proportion of body fat. Overweight and obesity are commonly determined by the body mass index (BMI), that is, a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. According to the classification of the World Health Organization (WHO), adults with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30 or higher are obese. The proportion of overweight persons varies between the Member States from 30 to 70% and the proportion of the obese from 10 to 30%. The share of the overweight and obese in the population increases with age.

Obesity is a major risk factor for numerous health problems and chronic diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, arthritis, endometrial , breast and colon cancers, and depression). It affects the quality of life and reduces life expectancy. Childhood obesity is often associated with underachievement in school, low self-esteem and psychological distress.

This condition can be caused by hereditary, behavioural, cultural and socioeconomic factors, and can result from an inappropriate diet and a lack of physical activity. Approximately 7% of national healthcare expenditure in the EU is due to obesity in adults. Other significant costs result from productivity loss due to sickness and premature death.


Excess weight poses hefty public health concerns by Nicole Scholz/ At a glance/ May 2015
“Obesity has doubled over the past 20 years in many Member States, with big variations between countries. People in lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to be obese.”

Dietary reference values and dietary guidelines / European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
“EFSA provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive scientific advice to support EU policy makers in their decision making process in the field of nutrition.”

Ten key facts about nutrition and obesity / European Commission/ Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General
“European Union citizens are moving too little and consuming too much: too much energy, too many calories, too much fat and sugar, and salt.”

Eu legislation

Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European parliament and of the council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods.

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers

Eu actions and initiaves on obesity

European school milk scheme and the School fruit scheme
The MEPs voted on the 2014 Commission’s proposal at committee level on May 2015. They endorsed the merger of the two distinct schemes and the extension of the current educational measures 2014/0014(COD) .

EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020 / 24 February 2014 [updated 12 March and 28 July 2014]

Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity / June 2014
“Obesity and its morbid consequences have been described as having reached epidemic proportions, as more than half of the adult population in the EU is overweight or obese according to the BMI classification of WHO and that the high level of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is of particular concern.”

White Paper on A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues / May 2007 (COM(2007) 279 final)
“The purpose of this White Paper is to set out an integrated EU approach to contribute to reducing ill health due to poor nutrition, overweight and obesity.”

EU programmes and projects

3rd Health programme 2014-2020
The 3rd programme is the main policy instrument to implement the EU health strategy. The first objective of this programme is to foster actions and interventions to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease.

High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical activity
“The high level group on nutrition and physical activity is a group of European government representatives dealing with this issue, led by the European Commission.”

EU projects
“Since 2005, the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency manages calls for proposals for projects and organises grants, conferences and relations with the beneficiaries of health programme funding.

EPODE European Network ‘Preventing childhood obesity’
“The EPODE European Network (EEN) is a European project running from 2008 to 2011 with the support of the European Commission DG Health and Consumers. The Network was created by the French company, Protéines , based in Paris and is designed to facilitate the implementation of EPODE-like programmes in other European countries.”

EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health – Diet, Physical Activity and Health – A European Platform for Action
“The EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health is a forum for European-level organisations, ranging from the food industry to consumer protection NGOs, willing to commit to tackling current trends in diet and physical activity .”

Reports & scientific studies

WHO Regional Committee for Europe 64 th Session/ September 2014 – European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020
“The intention of the Action Plan is to significantly reduce the burden of preventable diet-related noncommunicable diseases, obesity and all other forms of malnutrition still prevalent in the WHO European Region.”

Country profiles on nutrition, physical activity and obesity in the 53 WHO European Region Member States – Methodology and summary / 2013
“The aim of this document is to give an overview of information on selected monitoring and surveillance indicators as well as on policy developments and actions in the areas of nutrition, physical activity and obesity in the 53 WHO European Region Member States.”

OECD Obesity Update / June 2014
“The majority of the population, and one in five children, are overweight or obese in the OECD area. A nearly tenfold variation in rates of obesity and overweight is observed across OECD countries.”

Childhood Overweight and Obesity: Data Brief by Agata Dabrowska/ Congressional Research Service/ November 13, 2014
“Over the past three decades, obesity has become a major public health problem, capturing the interest of health care professionals, policymakers, schools, employers, and the media.”
“The prevalence of overweight and obesity in children varies by age, race, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.”

Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis by Richard Dobbs, Corinne Sawers, Fraser Thompson, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel, Peter Child, Sorcha McKenna, Angela Spatharou, McKinsey Global Institute/ 2014
“Obesity is a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy. More than 2.1 billion people—nearly 30 percent of the global population—are overweight or obese. That’s almost two and a half times the number of adults and children who are undernourished.”

Obésité Santé publique et populisme alimentaire / Fabrice Étilé – Cepremap (Centre Pour La Recherche Économique Et Ses Applications), 2013

‘Fat taxes’ in Europe – A Legal and Policy Analysis under EU and WTO Law / A. Alemanno; I. Carreño; 2012
This article discussed the effectiveness of using “fat taxes” as a means of solving the obesity epidemic.



BMI classification – the international classification of adult underweight, overweight and obesity according to BMI

The WHO Child Growth Standards

Growth reference data for 5-19 years

Data and statistics


Overweight and obesity – BMI statistics

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Defining Overweight and Obesity – correlation between the BMI and the amount of body fat

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