Scientists call for move away from focus on diet in the fight against obesity

January 12, 2004

Brussels, 9 January 2004

Scientists have told a European conference on obesity that diet is not the only cause of obesity, particularly in children.

Professor Claus Vögele from the UK's University of Surrey pointed to one of the most comprehensive studies on childhood obesity, the Kiel obesity prevention study (KOPS), which stated that no identifiable link exists between an unhealthy diet and obesity. Instead, children are more likely to become obese if they come from a low income family, live very sedentary lives, or have obese parents.

'If we are to make a serious dent in the rising level of obesity and actively improve the dietary health of European citizens, we need to act,' said David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, on 8 January. According to some scientists, however, the Commission's food labelling proposals alone will not be sufficient to cut obesity levels. The proposal would see the producers of any foods high in salt, sugar or fat banned from making any health claims, regardless of any nutrients that may also be present in the food.

Professor Vögele advocated a focus on improved education, social support and encouragement of exercise in the battle against obesity, but also criticised society in the West for placing more emphasis on weight loss than on health. 'You can have very healthy overweight people - that's somehow buried in the current worries about obesity,' he said.

However, the conference came at the same time as a study by the Worldwatch Institute, which claims that 25 per cent of the world's population is now enjoying a lifestyle which was previously only the privilege of the rich. The result is an increase in obesity, debt and time pressures, and a reduction in quality of life for many.

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