Healthy foods (and habits), healthy young people

#20, February 2022

Begoña Pérez-Villareal

Director South, representing the EIT Food South team

The European Union dedicates 2022 to youth. As EIT Food, we are delighted with this choice, since we work completely focused on this population group in many of the programmes that we develop. Moreover, we cannot forget that young people have been and remain key to collective aid during the Covid pandemic, and we must thank them. However, also this group, especially the younger ones, is being affected by another pandemic, one that is non-infectious and is quite hidden, but which continues to grow around the world: obesity, which as EIT Food we do not want it to be forgotten, as it stigmatises much of this population group. Obesity has tripled in recent years in southern Europe. We have the image that this is a problem for Anglo-Saxon countries, but the truth is that it is a problem that we have here, among us.

A particular concern is the increase in childhood obesity. According to the latest COSI report (European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, COSI) published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mediterranean countries have increased rates: overweight or obesity affects one in three children aged 6 to 9. In particular, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain had the highest rates of childhood overweight and obesity: 40% of children of both sexes were overweight; being obese the 19% to 24% of boys and 14% to 19% of girls.

There are several reasons for this: the Mediterranean diet is no longer followed so strictly, as it was previously, physical activity has been reduced and consumption of sugary drinks and processed foods has increased.

Knowing the source of the problem, it may be easier to find a solution. Clearly, we must bet on encouraging healthier food and habits. We need to take action and change habits among the younger ones, starting at an early age. EIT Food has launched a range of programmes in searching for solutions. We are an independent EU body that drives innovation and entrepreneurship to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trustworthy.

Among the initiatives designed for young people, ”Los Salvacomidas”, an educational project focused on schools, in which we challenge students to apply healthy lifestyle habits in recipes, business ideas or mobile applications. The project covers classrooms of Primary, Secondary, High School and Vocational Training in the Spanish regions of Madrid, Basque Country, Andalusia, Galicia and Castile-Leon. This initiative is complemented with others, such as the Annual Food Agenda or ‘SEE & EAT’.

We also consider it is very important to help in boosting new innovative projects in the field of agriculture. EIT Food leads various programmes that drive sustainable and disruptive agriculture. From training courses to projects such as Test Farms, which connect farms with startups that provide innovative solutions. In most of these cases, they are young entrepreneurs (although age is not exclusive).

Finally, we want to highlight the importance of listening to young people, by giving them a voice since they have interesting things to tell or propose, such as the Menu for Change, in which future generations give ideas on how to transform agrifood systems. In that sense, the forum ‘Future of Food’ serves to understand their concerns and learn about the steps to be taken in the coming years.

The seed to achieve a healthier and more sustainable diet is already within our young people. Now we need to listen and give them the tools so they can change and improve the future.