EU Health Commissioner endorses EU Pledge


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Speaking at the joint meeting of the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and health and the High Level Group (HLG) on Nutrition and Physical Activity (Member State experts) on 20 June, EU Health and Consumers Commissioner Tonio Borg endorsed the achievements of the EU Pledge on food and beverage marketing to children, while highlighting the need to do more.

One excellent example of a commitment emanating from the Platform is the EU Pledge, whereby 20 leading food and beverage companies have committed themselves not to advertise to target children below the age of 12. The effectiveness of the Pledge is made evident by the latest monitoring report – which you saw yesterday - which showed a downward trend in children's exposure to food advertising. I hope, however, that this is just the start and that the commitment will continue to be strengthened”, he stated.

The Commissioner's remarks followed a comprehensive EU Platform/HLG discussion on food marketing to children on 19 June, during which WFA presented the 2012 monitoring results of the EU Pledge and engaged in an exchange of views with Platform members on the new EU Pledge nutrition criteria. While NGO criticism remains, focused on the scope of the commitments, the definition of advertising to children and the strictness of the nutrition criteria, there was overall recognition of the impact of the EU Pledge and of the credibility of the new nutrition criteria, which will apply as of the end of 2014. EU Platform chair John Ryan (DG SANCO) concluded the discussion by urging additional companies to join the EU Pledge and committed to work with WFA in order to encourage more companies to join.

The meeting further focused on the external evaluation report of the EU Strategy on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity, five years after its adoption. The overall conclusion of the detailed evaluation report is that the Strategy and its implementation have been “reasonably effective”. The report finds that the Strategy has contributed to the firm establishment of the obesity issue on the political agenda and has facilitated cooperation and action by a range of stakeholders. However, efforts at EU level have not managed to reduce obesity levels across the EU, partly due to its limited decision-making powers with regard to health-related policies (which remain a predominantly national competence).

The reports' recommendations include:
- Continued Commission co-ordination to increase policy developments and actions both at EU and national levels
- Greater focus on physical activity promotion
- Careful consideration of the effects of actions on lower socio-economic groups.
- The need for better evidence of the efficacy and impact of its commitments, to maintain momentum and keep members engaged. In particular it envisages:
  • Pre-screening of commitments by an independent panel;
  • Periodic analytical (rather than purely descriptive) reviews of commitments by activity area; and
  • The commissioning of targeted scientific research and/or evaluative studies.

The report also reviews progress on the implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) adopted in 2007, which calls on Member-States and the EC to encourage codes of conduct on food advertising to children (art. 9.2) and related EU Platform commitments. It emphasizes the considerable progress made but also finds considerable variations in the five markets reviewed (Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Portugal), especially with regard to the definition of “unhealthy food”, the age of a child, the restrictions in place, the media covered by the code, and whether nutrition criteria apply. As a result, the report calls on the Commission to continue monitoring self-regulation and regulation in the Member States. On the EU Pledge, the report highlights the adoption of common nutrition criteria in 2012 and the ability of the initiative to demonstrate very high compliance rates, as well as a clear reduction in the overall exposure of children to advertising through extensive annual monitoring exercises.

Commissioner Borg interpreted the Strategy evaluation report as a confirmation that the current EU approach remains valid and should be pursued further. “The evaluation of the strategy gives us the evidence base to steer our future action towards our common goal of halting the increase in overweight and obesity across the European Union. The goals of the current Strategy and its instruments, such as the High Level Group and the Platform, remain valid, and the evaluation results give us a renewed sense of purpose”, he stated.

Next steps: The Commission will now process the results of the Strategy evaluation, with a view to adjusting the processes of the EU Platform and HLG. Reformulation and food and marketing to children are expected to remain the key focus areas for the EU Platform going forward. In policy terms, the Commission is expected to develop an EU Action Plan on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), one plank of which will be focused on nutrition. In addition, the Commission and the HLG are in the process of developing an EU Obesity Action Plan, focused on childhood obesity, following a request by the informal Health Council held in march 2013; details of the proposed Action Plan are not yet available.

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