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Get fitter, not fatter – Olympians show the way - 14/08/2008

Overweight teenagers playing football on beach

Once again the world is witnessing unprecedented feats of speed, strength and endurance at the Olympic games. But if athletes are pushing themselves to the limit, most people are getting less and less physical activity.

Sports are a key part of the EU strategy for tackling obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in Europe and elsewhere. The condition is associated with a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer.

Bad eating habits and lack of activity are mainly to blame. Europeans spend on average six hours a day sitting down – typically in front of a TV or computer. Less than one third of adults get regular intensive physical activity, and more than half say they don’t have the time to exercise more.

Expanding waistlines are a problem not only in developed but also many developing countries. The WHO calls the trend a global epidemic. In some EU countries, nearly half the adults are overweight and many are obese. About 30% of European children are too fat.

The commission wants governments to promote not only the competitive aspect of sports, but also the health benefits. The point is not to go for gold like Olympic athletes but to live longer. Last year it teamed up with UEFA in a TV campaign to promote physical activity. It shows pot-bellied men trying to play football in their armchairs.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Children should exercise for at least 60 minutes.

Along with health benefits, sport fosters values like team spirit, tolerance and fair play. Fans were reminded of that at the European football championships in June. Each match began with a short film capturing the emotions of different fans watching the same goal.

The clip is another joint EU-UEFA effort to replace the racist sentiment that has marred some football games with an appreciation of the sport’s universal appeal. It will also be screened at Champions League matches next season.

More on the EU and sport

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