There is an emerging consensus that obesity is a public enemy of the first rank.
It blights the life of people across Europe, young and old, rich and poor.
It sustains diseases of the endemic kind which develop regardless of age and social condition.
It is instrumental in generating what should be avoidable increases in health care costs, public and private, as it feeds into a range of illnesses, from diabetes to heart problems to depression.
Obesity is itself a disease, though we are told that this still needs to be fully accepted, not just by policy makers and citizens, but also by members of the medical profession.
So a first priority must be to stimulate awareness about its existence and prevalence; to make sure that more and more people understand the need to combat it.
Such a priority must take account of the point that the inroads of obesity affecting the general state of health of our populations are much deeper, much stronger than we would like to think.
Which is why the emerging consensus that obesity is a public enemy of the first rank needs to be translated as soon as possible into a general policy endorsed by all the relevant stakeholders.
Such a policy must cover all the sectors of public and private action concerned, and involve them meaningfully in its formulation and implementation.
There is no point in having a farflung policy
— if families are not aware of the problem
– if governments and social workers do not make the link between socio-economic status and obesity
– if doctors continue to consider it as a lifestyle problem not a disease
– if schools with their routines and curricula fail to raise consciousness about the scale of the problem, or indeed by ignoring it, might be contributing to increase its scale
– if policy makers remain focussed on the need to treat its effects, rather than treat it as a cause
– if prevention takes third or fourth place behind other priorities.
And the question arises: should obesity be fought on a European level, or should national systems be left to deal with it in their own way, in their own time, with their own means?
The truth is that – as all the available data shows – obesity is a European problem, shared… if that is the right word… among all member states of the EU.
Should this mean that we need a European policy on obesity finetuned and directed from Brussels?
Not really.
But it would seem that as a European problem, in mobilizing resources against it, we could all learn from each other.
We could learn both how to mobilize such resources as are needed, and how to deploy them.
In the priority war against obesity that needs to be waged, on a national basis, we could all learn from whoever is at the cutting edge of the best practice in this field.
We do not all have to reinvent the wheel.
Coordination and consultation, not least for the sharing of information, at a European level… the setting of realistic targets for action that do not apply on a one-size-fits-all basis… not least by way of preventive programmes… appear to be feasible proposals to accellerate effective action against obesity.
Just as significantly, there is the need to raise awareness and to promote action across a wide spread of institutional and professional actors.
Not only must they see their participation as necessary.
They must also accept that they need to willingly participate in a coalition of the willing, if the overall effort is to succeed.
Surely, such mobilisation across fields of competence and of professional interest, is best triggered by initiatives at the European level.
Initially these would proceed at the level of raising awareness.
Eventually they would become most effective by launching preventive programmes that need high political and media salience in order to make waves.
That had best be attempted at a European level in order to ensure the most cost effective outcome.
We need to learn fast.
The best way to achieve this is by knowing what others are doing and copying their successes.
Policy making to beat obesity has to be flexible, cooperative across societies and across competences.
It must have a preventive arm and a curative reach, at both medical and social levels.
Naturally this implies that financial space has to be found in government budgets for the right policies to be defined and adopted.
Does a political will exist to make this happen?
Perhaps not sufficiently… perhaps not yet.
For to deliver results, such a will needs to be wholehearted, rather than grudging.
It needs to be fully committed, rather than moderate to cool.
Though momentum is increasing in favour of prioritizing the battle against obesity, we are still not there yet, on a European and on a national basis.
Which is why I think it is good news that the Malta government has said it will be setting anit-obesity policies as one of its health priorities when it will be responsible for the Union presidency during the first half of 2017.
As with the holding of this conference, the preparatory work that has been going on to draft comprehensive anti-obesity programmes merits full recognition and support.
We need to build further on it.
The step forward that should now be carried out is to ensure that doable and viable policies are agreed and put in place to push back the scourge of obesity in our societies.

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