New tools show big gaps in nutrition and physical activity policies in Europe

Our new indexes assess how well 30 European countries are doing in policies that combat childhood and adolescent obesity.

3 May 2023

In Europe, overweight and obesity affect 1 in 5 adolescents. Excess weight in adolescence has health consequences that continue into adulthood, such as an increased risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer.

In light of the obesity crisis among children and young adults in Europe, World Cancer Research Fund International is today launching 2 indexes that evaluate how well 30 European countries are doing in creating and enacting polices that help young people to eat well and move more.

Young people combating obesity

As part of CO-CREATE – an ongoing EU-funded project that puts young people at the forefront of efforts to combat obesity – World Cancer Research Fund International was commissioned to research the status of nutrition and physical activity policy in Europe and create indexes that assess and compare how well current policies are designed.

This work builds on our widely used and respected frameworks – NOURISHING and MOVING – which look at what good nutrition and physical activity policies should look like, and our policy databases.

In addition to the 2 indexes, we have produced country snapshots that offer a detailed look at policy status in 30 European countries. Government action to increase physical activity and improve nutrition is essential – and such action will only be effective if it is based on well-designed policies. Our research is intended to support national governments in Europe to ensure their policy actions in nutrition and physical activity do just that.

Dr Kate Allen, our Science and Policy Adviser, said:

Policy actions to promote increased physical activity and improved nutrition are essential in turning the tide against rising childhood obesity rates, and keeping populations healthy by reducing the risk of cancer and other NCDs. The NOURISHING and MOVING policy briefs and indexes are innovative tools that help us assess what countries are doing to implement such policy actions. They can be used in advocacy efforts with governments to support the creation of healthier environments that enable people to eat healthy diets and be physically active.

We assessed the design of policies across each area of the NOURISHING and MOVING frameworks against aspirational, evidence-based benchmarks, or standards, that assess policy design. NOURISHING covers areas as diverse as school lunches, sugar taxes and junk food advertising, and MOVING covers policies such as office gyms, active transport and counselling on physical activity in healthcare settings. The index rates countries in 5 categories from poor to excellent. These categories are given a score depending on whether a policy in each category exists, and, if so, how well it has been designed.

How our indexes will make a difference

The indexes are tools to support health advocates, non-governmental organisations and civil society to advocate in their country and beyond for well-designed polices to combat obesity among young people. They also provide insightful learnings to academia and young people on how European countries are performing in nutrition and physical activity policymaking.

Prof Knut-Inge Klepp, Executive Director of the Division of Mental and Physical Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and lead project investigator of CO-CREATE, said:

NOURISHING and MOVING are important policy tools which, through the new benchmarking tools and policy index, highlight where national governments need to do better in nutrition and physical activity policy design. They enable national governments to see how they compare to other European countries. This monitoring and accountability work is vital in improving population health.

Policymakers can use the policy design criteria to:

  • improve current policies, in particular structural policies
  • identify gaps at national levels
  • identify opportunities for action at local and regional level

Civil society, including youth groups, can identify weaknesses in the policy status. These weaknesses can inform advocacy efforts to improve the policy environments and cut rates of overweight and obesity.

Researchers can compare high-scoring and lower-scoring countries to identify how existing policies can be improved to meet aspirational standards, and identify where results could be supplemented by additional analyses at local level and in specific settings.

Read more

If you would like to see the indexes and read more insights, download the policy briefs for NOURISHING and MOVING.

> Click here for all country snapshots on nutrition and physical activity.

Questions? Get in touch with World Cancer Research Fund’s Policy and Public Affairs team: or browse our policy webpages.

About World Cancer Research Fund International

World Cancer Research Fund International examines how diet, nutrition, body weight and physical activity affect your risk of developing and surviving cancer. As part of an international network of charities, we have been funding life-saving research, influencing global public health policy, and educating the public since 1982.

While society continues searching for a cure, our prevention and survival work is helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives – free from the devastating effects of cancer.

Preventing Cancer. Saving Lives