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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 17:53 GMT
EU alarmed by spread of obesity
The European Commission has launched an EU-wide campaign against obesity, urging the food industry to come up with measures to help consumers.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby reports from De Haan, Belgium, on a scheme to help obese children.


Cindy Meuleman
Cindy Meuleman: Tempting sugary foods should be banned
Cindy Meuleman shows me a photograph of herself when she first arrived at the Zeepreventorium school in De Haan last summer.

It shows an obese and embarrassed-looking 18-year-old girl in a red T-shirt and pair of shorts, her ankles and face swollen and bloated.

She looks down at the picture shyly.

"I was crying all the time when I was so fat. I was always depressed. But now I feel much healthier because I know what I should eat. No one teases me now."

With the help of dieticians and psychologists at the residential Zeepreventorium school, Cindy has already lost 30 kg (66 pounds).

She was pulled out of mainstream education to attend the special school after doctors warned her weight would have serious implications for her health.

Sedentary lives

Now she has regular lessons on nutrition and healthy eating and she plays sport regularly.

She is still shy about being chubby, but she is making great strides in confidence - she chats animatedly with her psychologist Anne Tanghe about a party she attended at the weekend.

Many of the children I see just do not know enough about which foods are good for us and which foods are not
Anne Tanghe, psychologist

Anne Tanghe worries that she is seeing a steady increase of obese children like Cindy and warns that in our hi-tech world, where no one even needs to leave the armchair to make a phone call or change the TV channel any more, it is easy to start piling on the pounds.

"We can't simply cast blame," she says.

"When I was a child, I used to cycle to school every day but with so much traffic on our city streets, that just isn't a safe option for a child any more.

"And it's hard for kids to join after-school sports clubs too, because these days it's all so competitive. The local basketball team doesn't play for fun, it plays to win competitions and if you are an overweight child who's not really gifted at sport - well, forget it."

Anne welcomes the European Commission's decision to tackle the growing problem of obesity with a series of new initiatives.

Food-labelling debate

Poor diet and lack of exercise are among the leading causes of avoidable death in Europe, with obesity estimated to account for up to 8% of healthcare costs.

Consumers in a supermarket
New legislation may affect food labelling
Industry associations, consumer groups, NGOs and politicians will work together under the new programme to try to reverse the growing trend.

The onus will be on national governments to come up with action plans.

But the European Commission is also considering introducing legislation to make sure that all food is labelled and marketed accurately and adequately, so consumers can make an informed choice about what they are eating.

"Many of the children I see just do not know enough about which foods are good for us and which foods are not," Anne Tanghe says.

"The parents also are confused - 70% of the parents of the obese children in school here are themselves seriously overweight. We need to educate people."

Cindy wants more than that. She feels there are just too many sugary and fatty foods on offer to children and that the temptation is too great.

"We should ban all sweets and chocolates and the chip shops should all be closed down. That way we'd all be healthy!"


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Obesity
26 May 04 |  Medical notes
'Obese' man sues over 55lb tumour
14 Mar 05 |  Berkshire
School dinners around the world
12 Mar 05 |  Education
EU takes aim at junk food adverts
20 Jan 05 |  Business


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