Last Updated 20 | 02 | 2014 at 12:48

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Reducing obesity by 4.3% by 2020

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Reducing obesity by 4.3 per cent by the year 2020 the country could save around €3 million per year, Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia said this morning during the launch of the "Food and Nutrition policy and action plan".

In Malta children who were measured at age seven and then later on at age nine showed a 12 per cent increase in the proportion of overweight and obese children along the years, from 32 per cent to over 43 per cent in 2010.

The problem persists in adulthood where, according to the European Health Interview Survey that covered the adult population aged over 15 years, approximately 22 per cent of the Maltese population was obese and a further 36 per cent are overweight.

Other related issues to unhealthy diet include malnutrition and sustainability of healthy food supplies.

The Minister said that these statistics pose an economic strain on our health systems. The projected national attributed health care cost is expected to increase to 34,980,000 by the year 2020, if there is no change in the proportion of overweight and obese individuals in the population. 

Minister Farrugia said that we have reached a point where we can no longer afford to have high prevalence rates of obesity and this has given further justification for scaling up nutrition interventions and ensure availability and accessibility of healthy food and good nutrition.

During his address the Minister added that this launch marks an important milestone in the drive to promote food and nutrition safety and the Government’s commitment to enhance the nation’s well-being.

Dr Farrugia said that the food we eat should not only be safe but should also be conducive to overall good health. Nutrition is recognised as one of the major health determinants.  Various studies have shown that the dietary habits of the European Union population are not ideal. This is reflected in the effects of an unhealthy diet which range from chronic under nutrition to overweight and obesity.

The burden from unhealthy diets globally is a major issue which is leading to high morbidity and mortality. It is currently estimated that an unhealthy diet and a sedentary life style may contribute to the cause of up to one in three cases of cancers, and for approximately one third of premature deaths due to cardiovascular diseases in Europe.

Nutrition is also an important determinant for the prevalence of obesity, which continues to rise both among children and adults.

Policies to tackle this disease burden have been developed globally and at the European level, including the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, the Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Disease, and the Health 2020 framework. 

The World Health Organisation has developed an updated Food and Nutrition Action Plan for the European WHO region 2014-2020 which proposes a number of measures developed through a consultative process within the WHO European Region.

This National Food and Nutrition Policy and Action Plan complements the Healthy Weight for Life Strategy,  The National Cancer Plan,  and the Noncommunicable Disease Control Strategy for Malta which focus on improving dietary habits in order to maximise health and well-being.

This action plan is the result of an intersectoral working group that set out to identify priority action areas in order to address the main public health challenges facing the Maltese Nation in the area of nutrition and food security.

The Ministries and entities involved apart from Health included Agriculture, Education, Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Malta Competition and Consumers Affairs Authority, National Statistics Office, and Foundation for Social Welfare Services. This whole-of-government approach has been taken in order to effectively coordinate policies and actions in other non-health sectors that could have an impact on health. 

In line with the WHO European health policy Health 2020, the action plan adopts a life course approach since the impact of nutrition on health accumulates from foetal life continuing through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.

Recognizing the fact that social inequities have a great impact on this public health challenge, this National Policy ultimately seeks to reduce Malta’s burden of disease by achieving change in an equitable manner.

The Minister thanked the working group for developing this Food and Nutrition Policy and Action plan consultation document led by the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate. He also invited and urged institutions, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and individuals from all sectors of society to comment and send their feedback on this policy so that the final document can be truly a national plan which will serve to improve our dietary habits and ultimately, our health.

“This will bring about ownership, sustainability and learning,” said Dr Farrugia.

He also said that the Ministry for Health is committed to make a change, a change in the landscape reflected from unhealthy diets so as to break the intergenerational cycle of obesity and under nutrition.  The next generation of children will require sustained commitment by placing good nutrition at a pivotal role to eradicate these issues.

The Food and Nutrition policy and action plan was launched in the presence of Dr João Breda, Programme Manager, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity of the World Health Organisation.

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