In response to the alarming rise in obesity across the developed world, a University of Sussex food policy researcher is leading a project to find out how European governments could fight the flab.
Tommorow (21 September) Dr Erik Millstone will meet senior public health representatives from nine European countries at the University’s Science and Technology Policy Research Unit to launch a cross-national comparative study.
During the next two and a half years the researchers will look at issues such as food labelling, food advertising and food subsidies in the EU and within their own countries and feed the results into the study.
Dr Millstone, whose work has previously influenced UK Government policies on food additives and BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis), says that the obesity epidemic and its health implications are of major concern to all European nations. “The UK has one of the highest rates, affecting nearly a quarter of the population. Some of the other countries haven’t reached that level yet, but they have faster growing rates of obesity. This is particularly true among the new members of the European Union, especially those in eastern Europe.”
Different countries currently use a variety of systems to try to address the problem. In Finland some firms use a “traffic light” system with food labelling to allow consumers to identify healthy "green" foods and "red" bad foods. Other nations are in favour of subsidising healthy food and increasing taxes on unhealthy food.
“What we’re doing is trying to capture perspectives from divergent approaches to see which mixes of policies might be effective in which countries," explains Dr Millstone. "It would be unrealistic to think that we could produce one set of policies that would work in all countries, but I hope this study will help to halt this juggernaut of obesity that’s rolling over Europe.”
The project, entitled PORGROW (Policy options for responding to the growing challenge from obesity: a cross-national comparative study), is funded by a £153,000 grant from the European Commission. The countries taking part are the UK, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary and Cyprus.