An obesity view: OPEN-EU’s suggested amendments to the EU4Health Programme


The 10 leading European organisations which form the OPEN-EU multi-stakeholder network have expressed their common approval of the European Commission’s proposal to regulate the European Parliament and the Council in order to strengthen the Union’s ability to better cooperate, coordinate and respond effectively in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. The OPEN-EU network is particularly pleased to see a strong focus on forging resilient health systems across the EU, specifically on providing better health outcomes across major chronic diseases, including obesity, by leveraging EU regional expertise, infrastructure and competences.

However, the network also believes there is an urgent need for a significant realignment between scientific evidence, person-centric infrastructure, and related policy-making in order for the EU to successfully meet its obligations and aspirations under the EU4Health Programme and more broadly under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly goal 3.4 which aims to “reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being by 2030″1.

To this end, OPEN-EU have proposed 19 amendments which specifically align the science with public health policies at EU level and would provide a legal basis for sustained action at EU, national and regional levels. These are currently being discussed in the European Parliament.

To stand a chance of properly addressing obesity, OPEN-EU amendments highlight the need for the EU to:

  1. Consider suitability of equipment for diagnosing and treating high risk groups such as those who have severe obesity in light of the current COVID-19 crisis, including ICU equipment, PPE, bariatric medical devices.
  2. Provide guidance on the safe and secure reopening of obesity treatment centres to begin addressing the backlog for vital preventative surgeries and to provide people living with obesity the care and support that they need
  3. Support national plans on obesity with a clear care pathway for people living with obesity, focusing on primary, secondary and tertiary prevention
  4. Include the definition of obesity as a chronic relapsing disease defined as “dysfunctional or excess adiposity that impairs health with the underlying causes of obesity onset ranging from genetics, mental health disorders and external environments impacting the biology of people living with obesity” as an integral element to a harmonised EU framework.

Download OPEN-EU’s proposed amendments to the European Parliament

By implementing OPEN-EU’s amendments, the EU4Health Programme can be a powerful tool to convincingly address the prevention of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and over 200 other complications of obesity. The proposed suggestions are anchored in a practical perspective and leverage already identified instruments and approaches for the other named chronic diseases.

The EU4Health policy initiative is particularly welcomed at a time of public health crisis where obesity has emerged as one of the high risk pre-existing chronic diseases which can negatively impact COVID-19 prognosis. The network strongly supports the growing trend from EU Member States to recognise obesity as a chronic relapsing disease and enact legislation and national plans to this effect, with the added value of the EU adopting a framework harmonisation role being key to moving policies forward.

This growing movement has been shaped by Portugal in 2000, Italy in 2019 and most recently Germany in July 2020, pushing to treat obesity as a chronic relapsing disease with related legal status and for better health outcomes for the 80 million Europeans currently living with obesity. These initiatives resulted in the European Parliament submitting three Motions for either a Written Declaration or Resolution during the 2014-2019 Mandate calling for increased action.2

Now is the time to act. Germany provides the most forward-thinking and “joined up approach” to date by placing effective treatment of obesity as a gateway chronic disease as a bedrock of tertiary prevention in their comprehensive Type 2 Diabetes national strategy for prevention and treatment.

Now is the time to take decisive action to stem the tide of obesity, the 4th biggest direct cause of premature mortality in the EU every year and a gateway chronic relapsing disease to 80% of Type 2 Diabetes and onset of 20% of cancers. Now is the time to act to spread the financial burden of chronic disease in Europe.

By including the suggested recommendations, the obesity pandemic can finally be properly addressed.