EU Australia Online - News & information from the capital of Europe direct to Australian businesses

Super-sized Campaign for Better Diets / Better Health

  • November 11th, 2006
  • Posted by 7thmin

mcdonalds-resize.jpgA phalanx of leading companies in the foods and drinks industry in Europe has started an offensive against an obesity epidemic, declaring they have changed their ways, for the common good.

In full promotional mode they brought out big guns, at Chief Executive or company Vice-president level, for a Brussels media conference (9.11.06), hosted by the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Markos Kyprianou.
Some of the world’s main companies have joined up with doctors groups and non-government organisations in an organised offensive against bad eating and exercise habits – which have seen obesity levels in Europe blow out five-fold in the last twenty-five years.
Alarming figures – over-weight and unhealthy

The European Commission has just released a study – a survey in its “Eurobarmoeter” series- showing that one-third of Europeans are too fat, and showing also they know what to do to get thinner – but are looking for help.

While three out of four Europeans still think they were are in good health, 44% of women and 32% of men declared themselves over-weight, and already 25% are suffering from some long-standing health problem.

Each year an additional 400 000 children are being listed as overweight; Southern Europeans have less long-term illness than Northerners; overall, seven-percent of health costs are blamed on obesity-related illnesses.

Worried governments and “reformed” corporate characters

Governments are worried; companies have been told more regulation is under way from the European Commission: on food contents and labelling, and they have been invited to co-operate.

To discuss what they would be doing, five major companies sent their senior people to meet the journalists: Coca Cola, Kraft, McDonalds, Pepsi and Unilever.

They came as “reformed characters” of the dietary wars, with wise policies: advertising styled not to pressure the young; “lite” choices and smaller serves available; increased vitamin, fibre and mineral content; and labels explaining about the contents.

Questions for business

It was a time of open availability; the CEOs talked to all and sundry, surrounded by their promotional stands, their own media minders, cameras and lights.

Some journalists barked and complained, not accustomed to all this commercial razzamataz in the confines of the European Commission.

Mr Kyprianou suggested it was a useful change: at times he had been accused of being too opposed to business, now he could be accused of the opposite.

A question for the business leaders:

Was the new line the end of the “super-size-me” issue – the complaints about fast-food outlets pushing big serves of fatty, sugary food and drink?

The European CEO of Pepsi, Zein Abdalla, said there had been a softening of approach.

“My observation is that the beverage industry has changed its promotional techniques quite readically in the on-premises channel, in the tuype of modern fast food restaurants you are talking about,” he said.

“If you want to do a specific response on the super-size-me McDonald’s issues, I’d suggest talk to Mr Hennequin for the specific practices.”

Denis Hennequin, the President of McDonald’s in Europe, was in fact nearby showing off new hamburger wrappers, telling the calories, salt, sugar and fat contents – with information about the impacts on, for instance, a six-year-old diner.

Would he also, promise, not to coax customers, to buy too much to eat or drink; would he keep down the size of portions?

Well, up to a point:

“We’ve limited our value meals offer to two sizes, because people have different needs. All kinds of people make the world go by. Giving the offer and the choice it’s for customers to play with whatever food they want to have,” he said.

“We have never in Europe had that aggressive promotional behaviour. We’ve always had a balanced approach, but again I think we do not fall either into the trap, to mandate and commend what people should eat.”

If the fast food industry is not only “turning over a new leaf”, but turning out its very most senior managers to sell the idea, there should be hope for a change in those obesity levels.

They have actually withdrawn many thousands of tonnes of problem substances, like so-called trans-fat, from the market.


Fighting obesity: Commissioner Kyprianou “names and praises” companies for concrete commitments, IP/06/1530. European Commission, 9.11.2006

Commission presents Eurobarometer on Health, Food and Nutrition,IP/06/1531. European Commission, 9.11.06

Questions and Answers on the Eurobarometer on Health, Food and Nutrition, MEMO/06/417. European Commission, 9.11.06

Questions and Answers on the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, and its commitments, MEMO/06/418. European Commission, 9.11.06

Special Eurobarmeter: Health and Food; Special Eurobaromteer 246/wave 64.3 – TNS Opinion and Social. European Commission n, July 2006

More information on EU policy on nutrition and obesity:

More information on the EU Platform for action on diet, physical activity and health:

More information on the Istanbul conference on obesity: