I am a big fan of a Mediterranean style diet, rich in fruit and vegetables that is good for heart health. Unfortunately the numbers seem to suggest that not so many of us adopt this kind of regime. Indeed, only one in seven people over the age of 15 in the EU eats the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day according to 2016 figures. Furthermore, in 17 EU countries more that 50% of adults are overweight or obese, which we know is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease s (CVDs).
The latter remains the leading cause of death and a major cause of illness and disability in the EU, despite considerable progress in tackling CVDs. According to the latest Eurostat data (1) heart diseases and strokes causes over 1.8 million deaths in the EU in 2014 alone, and according to the European Heart Network, dietary risks are the cause of around half of premature deaths from CVD. As our diet is such an important factor in warding off CVD, on this year's World Heart Day I would like to focus on the importance of food and drink policies for heart health, and outline some supportive EU-actions in this area of national competence.
To help EU countries tackle this worrying situation, the Commission brings together Member States and stakeholders in various platforms to foster exchange of best practice and implementation of such practices, for example on reformulating food products to contain less salt, fats or sugars. Particular attention is given to children. The Commission also finances numerous projects, including the EU School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme, to help shape healthier eating habits. When fruits and vegetables are provided in school, then the healthy eating habit is also an affordable eating habit.
When it comes to unhealthy foods, the contrary should apply. But with aggressive marketing by food companies, especially directed at children, we face an uphill struggle. However I am committed to not letting it go - we must seek solutions wherever we can. For example, the current discussion between the Council and the Parliament on the Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive is an excellent opportunity to make sure that we do more to reduce the exposure of minors to products high in fat, salt or sugar. Now is the time for EU countries to stand up for putting children before profit.
We can also ensure clear information about the ingredients and nutritional value of the food we eat, to help make the healthy choice an easy choice. The Commission is launching a project to produce a snapshot of the nutritional quality of common food products sold in our supermarkets. Since "what gets measured gets done", we expect this to result in strengthened reformulation activities, benefitting public health and providing a level playing field for industry.
Promotion of physical activity is also an important element. We need to get children to move more, to encourage people of all ages and fitness levels to be more active, and to foster the right conditions for this – including affordable sports facilities, public parks, cycling lanes. This requires close co-operation across health, sports, education, transport and urban planning policies. It is in this spirit that last Friday (22 September), in Estonia, I endorsed the Tartu call for healthy lifestyles together with the Commissioners for sports and for agriculture. In this call we put forward a number of initiatives to promote physical activity and healthy eating.
Turning to another risk factor for CVD - alcohol - Europeans drink approximately twice as much as the rest of the world, and one in four of us regularly drink large quantities of alcohol at once - so-called binge drinking. This is extremely worrying, as harmful alcohol use is a driving factor in the steady rise of chronic diseases in the EU, including CVD.
National initiatives taken by a number of countries have included minimum unit pricing, compulsory health warnings and labelling requirements. The Commission supports EU countries in addressing alcohol abuse and the harm that it causes, through initiatives and projects under the Health Programme, with € 1 million financing in this area for 2017 alone. We also take a "Health in All Policies" approach, enshrining alcohol related concerns including policies on road safety, consumer protection and advertising. I urge EU countries to also seize upon the revision of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive I mentioned earlier to reduce the exposure of minors to alcohol advertising.
The Commission adopted a report on the mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration for alcoholic beverages this March, which concludes that EU citizens have the right to be fully informed about what they drink. Following these conclusions, the Commission has asked the alcoholic beverages' industry to develop a self-regulatory proposal within a year. I expect nothing less but a strong and responsible proposal.
EU countries have taken a very positive step by committing to reach, by 2025, the nine voluntary global targets set out in the World Health Organization's global action plan on non-communicable diseases. These include halting the rise in obesity, reducing the harmful use of alcohol by 10%, and reducing salt intake by 30%. Member States can count on the Commission's continued commitment to supporting them in their food, drink, and other policy actions that promote heart health.
(1) 28/09/2017 "Heart diseases and strokes cause over 1.8 million deaths in the EU"