Fruit and vegetables key to proper
Agriculture and the right farm policies can promote
healthy diets but Europeans are in some ways eating
worse now than 45 years ago, an international meeting
was told here.
18 May 2006, Rome
by Christopher Matthews
Press release from the FAO, the Food and agriculture
organization of the united nations
FAO economist Josef Schmidhuber
told the two-day meeting, grouping representatives
from member countries of the Regional Offices for
Europe of the World Health Organization and of
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: "The
EU diet has become too rich in fats, particularly
saturated fats, sugar and cholesterol."
One positive sign, however, was that in 2002 people in the EU were eating more fruit and vegetables, Schmidhuber said. People in Mediterranean countries generally ate healthier diets than elsewhere in Europe but there were clear signs of deterioration in the Mediterranean diet too, he added.
The WHO/FAO meeting, supported by the Italian Government,
is taking place at FAO Headquarters in Rome. Its
aim is to facilitate dialogue between the agriculture
and public health sectors and to identify policy
options such as supporting primary production,
fiscal policies and marketing guidelines in order
to help improve people's diets and combat obesity
and related diseases.
"It is a sad fact that overweight and obesity affect the poorest parts of society
most, and also have long-term consequences for one of its most vulnerable groups - children",
said Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. "Everyone
must have access to healthy food, and government
policies must support both availability and access
Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges
of the 21st century. Its prevalence has risen threefold
in many European countries since the 1980s, and
the numbers of those affected, particularly children,
are continuing to increase at an alarming rate.
Obesity is already responsible for 2-8% of health
care costs and 10-13% of deaths in different parts
of the European Region - more than any other region.
FAO nutritionist Guy Nantel told the delegates
that obesity was not limited to rich, developed
countries but was rapidly becoming a problem
in developing countries too. This placed them
under a "double burden" of undernourishment co-existing
with overnutrition and obesity.
Adoption of Western diets and increasingly sedentary lives were sending obesity
rates climbing fast in developing countries, with women most affected, Nantel
FAO estimates that there were 852 million undernourished people worldwide in
2000-2002 while at the same time WHO said there were 300 million obese adults
and 115 million suffering from obesity-related conditions in the developing world.
Nantel cited the example of China where 23% of the adult population were now
overweight or obese, and diet-related chronic diseases had become the leading
cause of death.
Part of a solution to the problem would be for people to eat more fruit and vegetables,
Eric Kueneman, Chief of the FAO service dealing with crop production told the
"FAO is actively promoting fruit and vegetable production for both health and
for income-generation for producers," he noted. An ongoing joint WHO/FAO initiative
on fruit and vegetables represented "an exciting avenue for expanded cooperation
in the health, education and agriculture sectors," he