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interview


EUROPE EUROPE


FOCUS DESPINA SPANOU


The principal advisor on Health & Consumers in the European Commission, and chair of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, talks to Kate Cracknell about the EU’s commitment to addressing obesity


I


’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little lost when confronted with the vast machine that is the EU. Who’s who? Which department


does what? What policies will impact on us, and how? For many of us, there’s a cloak of mystery that surrounds the goings-on in Brussels. But there is a division which, by


its very name, immediately speaks to the health and fi tness sector: the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (SANCO). And within this, Despina Spanou is a signifi cant force. As principal advisor to the Director General, she works on communication and stakeholder relations, including chairing stakeholder fora: the Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, for example, and the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity. A qualifi ed lawyer, Spanou has been


working in the area of health for seven years. She explains: “As deputy


head of cabinet for the European Commissioners for Health, I observed the fi rst attempt to create a European Union-level strategy against obesity that included physical activity, and that’s what brought me to my role now. “The good thing about being a lawyer is


that you know where EU boundaries are, but you also know how far EU policy can go. European Union law is a bit special. Member States – the countries that are members of the European Union – maintain jurisdiction over their health policy, but as a lawyer you understand how the EU can help through co- ordinating actions at a European level. “Increasingly, over time, governments


The EPODE programme in Europe targets children and focuses on healthy eating and physical activity


30 Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital


are coming back to us and asking us to do more to fi ght obesity – in the area of physical activity, for example, they feel the direction needs to come from the top, with European-level action rather than individual, national actions. But ultimately, the role of the EU in the area of healthcare is to support co-ordinated actions for European Member States, and to propose initiatives that bring such co-ordinated actions. “As a lawyer though, you’re able to


push as far as possible to make the policies work – without encroaching into national jurisdiction, which must


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