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FOOD CHAIN - 3 February 2021

Plan on Beating Cancer: more focus on education policies

by Farm Europe

February 3, 2021

The European Commission is about to publish its Strategy for Beating Cancer. The document that gives the political direction of the EU’s action in the fight against cancer is complete and takes into consideration the different phases of the diseases, together with the livelihood of the patient (survivors, carers, their families, etc.). It is a step in the right direction in the prevention of cancers and it will, hopefully, improve treatments and knowledge. Nevertheless, we would like to underline some point of reflection:

– Prevention: the strategy rightly points out that “prevention is more effective than any cure”, and that it is “the most cost-effective long-term cancer control strategy”, therefore, the plan “will raise awareness of and address main risk factors such as cancers caused by unhealthy lifestyles”. “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will give individuals the information and tools they need to make [the] healthier choices”, however, no concrete action is proposed (such as financing communication and dissemination campaigns, seminars, citizens engagements, and, most importantly, education). The strategy must not forget that education is the key element in every long-term vision plan.

– As in the proposed European Programme for Health (2021-2027), the plan does address diets and nutrition as a cause of cancer (and Non-Communicable Diseases at large). Nevertheless, for a more complete approach, the EU should reconsider more the role that diets play in health. It is of the essence for European and national policies to take the effects of what we eat on health seriously, without pointing fingers, but by disseminating scientific knowledge and involve active citizenship.

– The approach goes in the right direction when it addresses obesity in childhood, however, a simple revival of existing policies and actions that did not show the expected outcomes (such as the fruit and vegetable school schemes, because occasional and focusing on a small number of schools and children) will not do. At any rate, schools are indeed the place where healthy habits are to be formed; in this context, compulsory weakly hours of educational programs focused on health and lifestyles could be a more proper solution, as the strategy states: “measures in schools will also address health literacy to improve knowledge on the benefits of healthy nutrition”.

– On the proposed action to implement fiscal incentives/disincentives on food, studies [1, 2, 3] have shown the lower efficacy of this kind of policies, together with the risk of underlying social disparities. On this action, the Commission should run a thorough impact assessment and come with efficient proposals focusing on education, information, and tackling the issue of health-related to food marketed, notably of processed and ultra-processed food.


  1. Darmon et al. “Food price policies improve diet quality while increasing socioeconomic inequalities in nutrition” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:66. Online source, consulted on October 22nd, 2020:  http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/11/1/66
  2. Eyles et al., “Food pricings strategies, population diets, and non-communicable disease: a systematic review of simulation studies”, PLoS Medicine, 2012. Online source, consulted on November 4th 2020: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233915556
  3. Smed et al., « Differentiated food taxes as a tool in health and nutrition policy”, Food and resource economics institute, 2005

EAT EUROPE is the dedicated department of Farm Europe which aims to tackle the most sensitive societal issues, focusing on the role that institutional actors play in citizen’s health, analyzing and defining the tools that the EU and its Member States could implement in order to prevent their population from habits that could lead to unhealthy lifestyles. It reasons on science and efficacy, by gathering knowledge of people and focusing exclusively on the EU common good and its ability to deliver.

Written by Farm Europe