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Obesity and Health Systems Resilience: A Call to Action at EU and national level

Dear Ambassadors to the EU Council of Ministers
Dear College of European Commissioners, 
Dear esteemed fellow Members of the European Parliament,  

Subject: Obesity and Health Systems Resilience: A Call to Action at EU and national level 

As we build a new reality across Europe in a Post COVID-19 era, a silent pandemic – the chronic disease (Non-Communicable Disease) of obesity – will persist unless we, as policymakers and civil society alike take action.  The time to act is now. 

Most recent statistics show that 23% of adults in Europe live with pre-obesity (overweight) and a further 14% live with obesity. And these numbers do not take into account the full definition of obesity but are rather guided by the rough population level measurement of Body Mass Index (BMI). 

The European Commission recently updated its definition of obesity whilst at the same time categorising it as an NCD in its own right. 

“Pre-obesity (overweight) and obesity are medical conditions marked by an abnormal and/or excessive accumulation of body fat that presents a risk to health ( WHO 2019  ). Obesity is a chronic relapsing disease, which in turn acts as a gateway to a range of other non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.” …. 

SOURCE: Obesity prevention | Knowledge for policy (europa.eu) 

The European Commission has set out on a pathway to build back resilience and has placed health system resilience as a core pillar to success in the coming years.  We, the undersigned urge you, our colleagues to move beyond political will in crafting policies to remove barriers to the implementation of obesity as a chronic disease beyond primary prevention. 

Ensuring that the health system is fit for purpose to implement obesity as the major chronic disease as per the WHO definition and European Commission framing. 

Autonomous and transparent Governance is strongly needed as we move forwards. In order to build a health ecosystem that is fit for purpose, in ensuring effective and participatory leadership with strong vision and communication; coordination of activities across government and key stakeholders; an organisational learning culture that is responsive to crises; effective information systems and flows; and surveillance enabling timely detection of shocks and their impact. We the undersigned call on governments and public administrations at all levels to 

  1. Carefully review the European Commission’s Brief on Obesity prevention and identify gaps in knowledge and policies which are hindering full implementation of obesity as a chronic disease in its own right as defined in the brief.  
  2. Define a clear schedule and policy pathway as well as capacity building to realise an EU-wide harmonised approach to implementing obesity as a chronic disease 
  3. Prioritise the co-design and legal basis for Obesity National Plans for the primary prevention, treatment and long-term management as part of the ongoing review process at EU and national levels for respective Recovery and Resilience programmes 

In order to build sustainable human and physical resources, we must learn from previous major health threats such as COVID-19.  To this end, we the undersigned call on governments and public administrations at all levels to 

  1. Integrate obesity as a chronic disease as part of the core curricula for all health professional education at national level in line with the EC Directive 2005/36 on the recognition of professional qualifications 
  2. Ensure that as part of discussions on the implementation of the European Health Union Agenda, provision is made for qualified human resources to be replenished to “pre-pre-pandemic  levels” at which time diverted human resources were never returned and indeed the situation has been severely exacerbated under COVID-19. 

Addressing obesity as other NCDs will considerably lighten the financial burden of obesity rates and severity across the Union; currently conservatively estimated to be 7% of GDP in OECD countries. However, the financial impact of not approaching obesity from a value-based healthcare approach will not only continue the negative economic trajectory, for health system spending, but will put our bloc’s ability to be the most competitive at risk due to a workforce which is severely hampered by avoidable or manageable bad health.  

We must ensure sufficient monetary resources in the system and flexibility to reallocate and inject extra funds; ensuring stability of health system funding through countercyclical health financing mechanisms and reserves; purchasing flexibility and reallocation of funding to meet changing needs; and comprehensive health coverage. We therefore call on Public Administrations and EU agencies to: 

  1. Ensure that sufficient financial resources are retained and re-injected at regional level health clusters and is clearly delineated as a measurement of success as part of the recovery and resilience planning exercises. 
  2. Take up available capacity-building from technical support agencies such as Commission DG REFORM on how to understand and implement value-based healthcare approach to addressing priority NCDs like obesity beyond primary prevention. 

COVID-19 has taught us of the need to embed alternative and flexible approaches to deliver care along the continuum and to ensure that we minimise health inequalities in access to care. We strongly urge public administrations at EU, national and territorial levels to: 

  1. Identify relevant obesity health outcomes that matter to People Living with Obesity as well as related health professionals, service deliverers and economic actors that can be integrated into the EU health dataspace. 
  2. Focus on ensuring that vulnerable groups can access the treatment and other interventions that they need virtually as well as through their physical environment. 

Yours Sincerely 

Pernille WEISS MEP (EPP-DK) - Chair MEP Interest Group on Obesity and Health System Resilience 

Sara CERDAS MEP (S&D-PT) Vice Chair MEP Interest Group on Obesity and Health System Resilience 

Susana Solis Perez MEP (Renew Europe Group – ES) Vice Chair MEP Interest Group on Obesity and Health System Resilience  

About the MEP Interest Group on Obesity & Health System Resilience (https://mepobesityinterest.eu/) 

Constituted in March 2021, the MEP Interest Group on Obesity & Health System Resilience focuses on finding policy solutions to remove barriers in the implementation of obesity as a chronic relapsing disease in Europe and contribute to building back resilient health systems building on the Strategic Foresight Process and the EU4Health agenda. 

The Expert Secretariat is coordinated by European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) www.easo.org | @EASOobesity