Newsletter 213 - Health promotion and prevention

Health-EU Newsletter 213 - Focus

Steering Europe towards a healthier future by reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases

Deputy Director-General for Health and Food Safety Martin Seychell discusses the Steering Group he chairs on Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Management of Non-Communicable Diseases.

What is the Steering Group, and why was it established?

The Steering Group is made up of representatives from health ministries from the Member States, Norway and Iceland, and from Commission services, EU agencies and the European Investment Bank who work together to prioritise policies and interventions that have the potential to positively impact many people's lives. Representatives from accession and candidate countries will also be able to attend as observers.

The Steering Group is part of a new approach to maximise joint efforts with the EU Member States on reaching the World Health Organisation's voluntary non-communicable disease targets by 2025 and the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal on reducing non-communicable diseases by 2030.

What has been achieved so far?

The Steering Group was first set up in November 2016 and is now being elevated to the status of Expert Group. In fact, it will be the Expert Group for steering promotion and prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, replacing disease-specific expert groups like those on cancer, rare diseases and mental health. Streamlining our activities will save time, effort and money. 

In 2017, the Steering Group selected the first set of best practices related to non-communicable diseases, which the Commission helps Member States fund if they choose to implement them. Specifically, these concerned physical activity on prescription, cardio health for over 50s and training and technical assistance with colorectal cancer screening. The Commission funds these and other initiatives through the Health Programme or through other funding instruments in liaison with other Commission services.

What's in store for 2018?

In 2018, we've narrowed the focus to nutrition and physical activity – which are the cornerstones of good health flagged as priorities among the Member States. In March, we hosted a "market place" in Ispra, Italy, together with the Joint Research Centre, where best practices on nutrition and physical activity were presented. As a result, several initiatives are now being selected for wider implementation and funding.

In the running are projects for reformulating everyday food items to remove excess sugars, salt and fat and for applying restrictions on marketing alcohol and foods high in fat, sugar or salt specifically to children, for example.

These types of initiatives can be shared and submitted to the Steering Group for consideration via the brand new portal for best practices when it is launched later this month.

Other Commission services such as the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation also want to use the Steering Group as a sounding board for their policy work. Most recently, the European Investment Bank asked about the possibility of meeting with the Steering Group to discuss Member States' needs regarding proton therapy centres.

Why is so much attention being given to non-communicable diseases?

The WHO estimates that diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders together account for an estimated 86% of the deaths in the European Region and 70% to 80% of healthcare costs. Good nutrition and adequate physical activity greatly reduce the risk of developing a non-communicable disease and are essential building blocks not only for a healthy population but for a healthy and thriving EU too.