EU ZMK's Diary

Genval, 16th April 2016 – Ironic. While there are – at least – three, “low hanging fruits” type policy proposals on the table for the European Commission to improve population health in the EU, we can only expect a 1 day conference on chronic diseases. Talk shaw or real action, this is the question.

‘Towards better prevention and management of chronic diseases’ – Brussels, 21 April 2016

The Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTÉ) plans to hold a 1 day, high level conference to explore more on this issue. Well, it sounds great at first sight but we should remember that we were at that stage already long ago. Just to name two major outcomes in the Chronic Disease policy field from the past.

1.) Following the Council Conclusions of 2010 (!), the EU went through already a reflection process on Chronic Diseases, which has been finished with the final conclusions on 23rd September 2013 already.

2.) As a next step, a “Chronic Disease Summit” was organised on 3-4 April 2014 to follow up those developments which has gathered the major stakeholders and was supposed to be followed by concrete policy actions.

In my personal opinion, in light of what was already done and promised in this area, having only a 1 day conference on chronic diseases in 2016 is – with all due respect – at least not as ambitious as it should be.

Talk shaw or real policy action?

As far as I can see, there is a wide-spread frustration within the European public health community that health is not as high at the European policy agenda as it should be. There are various reasons for that. But my point here is the following: the nature of public health advocacy is that the major decisions affecting health are made outside of the health sector. This is the reason, why – based on TFEU article 168 (“Health should be included into all EU policies.”) – I have a very difficult job when I try to explain public health to DG AGRI in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), to DG JUST in the European Framework of Roma Integration or to DG TRADE in the context of TTIP.

But the Chronic Disease field belongs to the competency of DG SANTÉ and there are – at least – three clear, simple, achievable potential policy actions which could be adopted during this policy cycle of the European Commission:

1.) A European wide Chronic Disease Strategy.Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are the “silent killers” , the main reasons of premature death in Europe. This is a European – and global – phenomenon which requires European answers. Launching a soft-law like strategy to complement and support the member states’ actions would be of utmost importance.

2.)
A new EU strategy on Aclohol. – The old strategy has expired in 2012 and is not valid anymore. While alcohol related harm is still a reality in the EU – Europe is the heaviest drinking region of the World – this challenge needs an appropriate policy answer from the EU. Despite the wide recognition of that problem, the EU has no intetion to renew the EU policy framework on alcohol control.

3.)
European-wide ban of trans-fats. – As a joint NGO-Industry letter highlights: “Most trans fats in our diet originate from foods containing industrially produced trans fats. There’s an important evidence base on the adverse health effects of consuming trans fats, notably by increasing the risk of heart attacks or heart disease. (…) harmonizing EU legislation on the content of industrially produced trans fats in foods by establishing a legal limit would be a proportionate and effective way to further reduce the intake of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils. “

Will the Commission follow up on these commitments or will we have a “talk shaw” only?

Let’s see. The meeting will be livestreamed from 9:45 to 16:45 at:
https://scic.ec.europa.eu/streaming/towards-better-prevention-and-management-of-chronic-diseases

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