EASO (European Association for the Study of Obesity) are delighted to receive confirmation that a compromise amendment (CA 10) listing obesity as a chronic disease within the EU4Health proposal, voted by the ENVI Committee (The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) on 14 October, passed with an overwhelming majority:
“With a view to protect people in vulnerable situations, including those suffering from mental illnesses, living with or most affected by communicable or noncommunicable diseases and chronic diseases, such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders, the Programme should also promote actions which address the collateral impacts of the health crisis on people belonging to such vulnerable groups.”
This welcome development pushes our trajectory forward in officially recognising obesity as a chronic, relapsing disease. We emphasise that now is a crucial moment for continuing commitment from the EU institutions in aligning with the science and finally placing obesity in the correct narrative and framing. We would like to express our gratitude to the Members of the European Parliament for their sensibility and nearly unanimous vote in favour of categorising obesity as a chronic disease alongside cancer, diabetes and others.
With the confidence and acknowledgement from the European Parliament ENVI committee, the ECDC (see our statement here), and the European Commission (see our statement here) of obesity as a non-communicable disease, we now call on the European Council to also align with European and international standards.
EASO stands ready to support these developments and turn words into actions in the coming period and guide an action-orientated approach in policy and practice.
COVID-19 has shifted attention away from major health challenges like non-communicable diseases, notably cancer and obesity.”
However, we are acutely aware that much more remains to be done. To date, obesity has been consistently approached as a “lifestyle” choice. Its placement in this new text, rightly recognised as a non-communicable disease, is a major step towards implementing the correct language, framing, and narrative of obesity primary, secondary and tertiary prevention as well as its treatment, and long-term management along the life course. This is an important milestone in aligning policies with the science of obesity and chronic diseases as outlined in the EASO Policy Position Paper “Obesity in Europe in the context of Covid-19: strategies for the “new reality” and resilient health systems
As emphasised in Foresight Report, in order for Europe to become more responsive and resilient to future health threats, vulnerabilities need to be addressed. Addressing obesity through a narrow lens of primary prevention and promotion can only go so far. COVID-19 has shone a light on a neglected public health disaster: that of the 51% (Eurostat 2014) and growing people currently living with pre-obesity or obesity in Europe are not accessing the treatment and management that they need, leading to an unnecessary higher death toll for COVID-19 amongst this population. Europe must equip our healthcare systems at regional and national level to better address the full continuum of obesity. Establishing multidisciplinary obesity centres and ensuring access to transdisciplinary care for people with obesity is a key focus area.
The European Commission’s recognition of people living with obesity as a medically vulnerable group, and now listed as a non-communicable disease, allows us to emphasise the importance of viewing obesity in the right frame – as a chronic, relapsing disease – and start implementing appropriate changes to improve the lives of millions of people across the EU.