Swiss health officials say they will be following closely the launch of a European Union-wide action plan to help fight obesity.This content was published on March 15, 2005 - 09:23
In Switzerland a quarter of children are overweight, with the figure rising to one in three among adults.
The European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health is being launched on Tuesday and brings together the food, retail and advertising industries, as well as consumer organisations and obesity experts.
It aims to promote voluntary action against obesity, especially among children.
"It’s very important to have such a platform because the problem of obesity does not end at the Swiss or European border, but is the emerging health problem for all industrialised countries," said Michael Beer, head of the food science division at the Federal Health Office.
"The Europe-wide platform will allow us to make fast and coordinated progress, and we would like to be as closely associated as possible," he said.
The EU wants the food industry to use the body to regulate its marketing practices, particularly those aimed at children.
It has already called for an end to junk-food adverts targeting the under-12s and for new labelling schemes to help people make healthier choices.
Beer said the inclusion of the food industry in anti-obesity discussions was a significant step forward.
"It is very important that the food industry accepts they also have a responsibility in the area of obesity," Beer told swissinfo.
He said Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, had launched its own anti-obesity measures last year.
Apart from the suissebalance project, which promotes healthy eating and exercise, the Federal Health Office has also held talks with the food industry and other parties.
Beer said discussions, which started in 2004, had focused on the issues of responsibility and advertising.
He said there had been a very positive response from the food industry, which had now set up its own working group on obesity.
Better food labelling is to be the theme of a second round-table meeting, due to take place on March 30.
The EU has threatened legislation if no progress is made on tackling obesity, but Beer says voluntary agreements should be sufficient in Switzerland. He pointed out that previous accords, such as one on infant nutrition, had proved successful.
But some members of the Swiss food industry remain sceptical about the EU’s action plan against obesity.
Asked about the EU’s call for a ban on junk-food adverts aimed at children, Swiss food giant Nestlé said earlier this year that it was against the move, but was in favour of industry self-regulation.
Nestlé added that it had its own internal guidelines for children’s advertising.
Both the EU and Switzerland agree that stopping the rise in obesity, especially among children, is a priority.
Beer says that being obese or overweight increases the risk of developing diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
The Federal Health Office estimates that associated health-care costs in Switzerland are SFr2.7 billion ($2.1billion) a year.
"The frightening thing is that growing numbers of children are obese or overweight at a young age, so this means there is more time for all these conditions, such as type two diabetes, to develop," he told swissinfo.
"We don’t have a solution right now but we need to find one."
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
This figure stands at 25% among children, roughly the same as the EU average.
The number of overweight Swiss children has tripled over the past 20 years.
Over the past decade, the percentage of overweight adults grew from 30-37%.
The annual cost of caring for the overweight is estimated at SFr2.7 billion ($2.1 billion).
The EU action plan against obesity has been drawn up in conjunction with European consumer associations, the food, advertising and retail industries, as well as obesity experts.
The main objectives are: informing and educating consumers; marketing food products and portion size; and promoting physical activity.
The EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health will hold its first meeting on Tuesday in Brussels.
In compliance with the JTI standards