Health ministers call on governments for stronger restriction on unhealthy food

Health ministers from eight small states of the WHO European region have called on governments on to ensure stronger restrictions on the marketing of foods high in saturated fat, free sugars and salt to children

jeanelle_mifsud
Jeanelle Mifsud
27 June 2017, 2:42pm
Childhood obesity affects one in three children in small states in the WHO European region
Childhood obesity affects one in three children in small states in the WHO European region
Health ministers from eight small European states of the World Health Organisation have called on governments on to ensure stronger restrictions on the marketing of foods high in saturated fat, free sugars and salt to children.

The move comes as the ministers signed today the Malta Statement on Ending Childhood Obesity in order to tackle the issue of childhood and adolescent obesity, which affects one out of three school-aged children in the majority of small states in the WHO European region.

“We acknowledge that governments can contribute to better living conditions for children, including improved diet and physical activity levels through changes to the wider environments and contexts in which we live our daily lives. Such policies will influence, for example the ways in which foods are produced, promoted, their availability in different settings, and – in some circumstances – their affordability,” a joint statement by the health ministry and the WHO regional office for Europe read.

The ministers also called for governments to promote clear and easy-to-understand labelling, as well as improve the nutritional composition of food products in line with the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020, the Physical Activity Strategy for the WHO European Region 2016-2025 and the recently adopted EU Council Conclusions on Childhood Obesity.

“In altering the environments in which we live, it is possible to encourage physical activity as part of everyday life through active transport, increased leisure time activity and more quality physical education in schools,” the statement added.

In the Malta Statement, the ministers acknowledged that children’s eating habits, access to healthy food and opportunities to be physically active are influenced by their social and economic background, sociocultural attitudes by gender roles, norms, and stigma regarding weight. They also noted that if these issues are not understood and addressed, they may hamper efforts to promote healthy lifestyles.

Thus, among other pledges, the ministers agreed to “implement interventions at an early age, particularly amongst disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, in order to prevent socio and health inequalities in later life,” as well as to “adopt and promote national guidelines on physical activity for health using effective communication and motivational tools for children.”

The Malta Statement was a key outcome of the fourth high-level meeting of the small countries, held in Malta between 26 and 27 June 2017, organised by WHO and the health ministry of Malta, under the framework of the WHO Small Countries Initiative.