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Address by Minister of Health Zofija Mazej Kukovič at the Conference on Cross-Sectoral Policies for Nutrition and Physical Activity – Implementation and Monitoring

Dear representatives of the European Commission, representatives of the World Health Organisation, Mayor of the Municipality of Radenci, representatives of the European Union Member States and candidate countries, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great honour to greet you in the beautiful and relaxing environment of Terme Radenci, where the wealth of nature offers ample opportunity and enticement for a healthy and active life to its visitors.

Today’s meeting will be dedicated particularly to healthy lifestyles, with a special emphasis on healthy and balanced nutrition and regular physical activity for health promotion. In terms of their effects on health, both areas are closely connected and intertwined with each other, thus producing a synergetic health effect which contributes significantly to a greater quality of life of the population of all age groups.

I believe that every one of us is striving for a healthy lifestyle, I myself am aware that leisure time is more and more restricted on the account of daily working obligations, and therefore I try hard to lead a healthy and active life both at work and in my free time. Let me point out that this year our Ministry has adopted a decision that every worker should be given a free apple every day. This symbolic gesture is aimed at raising awareness about the importance of sufficient fruit intake and good nutrition for health.

Higher incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases represents an ever greater burden not only in Slovenia and the European Community but also throughout the world. Healthy lifestyle is undoubtedly the best answer to this challenge. Hence, that is why Slovenia was keen to join Germany's initiative to take over the BATON project, which placed the issues of nutrition and physical activity high on the political agenda of the Trio Presidency. By organising this event in Slovenia, we wish to pass on the baton to the forthcoming presiding countries. If we wish to attain results in the field of reducing the incidence of chronic diseases, we need to devote constant political attention to this issue in order to ensure the establishment of conditions which will help us to lead a healthy lifestyle.

In Slovenia we have been persistently striving for several years for the development of our own policies in the area of the population’s healthy lifestyle. The National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia adopted the Resolution on the National Nutrition Policy Programme 2005–2010 by a vast majority of votes back in March 2005, while the Government of the Republic of Slovenia adopted the Strategy for Promoting Physical Activity to Enhance National Health for the period 2007–2012 last year. Regarding their vision and measures, both strategic documents have a clear cross-sectoral, synergetic layout, and are targeted at a common long-term goal – to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases.

I firmly believe that the key to the improvement and promotion of health lies in good cross-sectoral cooperation among various actors at international, national and local levels. I am convinced every one of us is aware that, rather than being generated by the health care sector alone, health is prevailingly a result of the coordinated policies of other sectors and political decisions which are in line with the principles of the protection of human health and environment.

Promoting and providing possibilities for a healthy lifestyle very often requires solutions which exceed national frameworks and can be more easily attained through international cooperation or within wider international environment. We are pleased that White paper on a strategy for Europe on nutrition, overweight and obesity was adopted last year and that the conclusions of the Council of the European Union were successfully adopted thanks to the efforts of the German and Portuguese presidencies. Both documents compel us to perform more efficiently and to cooperate across sectors within our countries, while at the same time they offer an opportunity for common efforts at the level of the European Community.

In November 2006, ministers of health from the WHO European Region singed a European charter on counteracting obesity, which is a framework strategy for solving this issue in a wider European context and undoubtedly presents a good basis for acting at a global level. Higher incidence of over-nutrition and obesity are no longer only a problem of the rich and the developed world, but are increasingly a result of differences in access to health promotion programmes and possibilities for a healthy lifestyle.

Therefore, key strategic documents for action are at our disposal. It is high time we begin to act and to use every opportunity to exchange the already acquired practical experiences and good practices which will without any doubt ease our way to attain the set objectives.

The BATON project presents us with an opportunity to exchange our experience. Some views have already been shared, however, new opportunities lie ahead of us today and tomorrow. In Slovenia, a fine example of good practice, which links several partners at the national and regional levels in Pomurje, is the regional pilot project MURA – Investment for Health and Development, which has been successfully under way for a few years in this very region.

MURA project developed in response to outstanding regional inequalities in health, as well as in the environmental and socio-economic development of Pomurje. It has progressed to a point that indicates an added value not only for the region but also for the whole country. The main objective is therefore the improvement of health and quality of life in this prevailingly agricultural region, also called “the granary of Slovenia”.

The project has been successfully linking actors from the areas of public health, regional development, agriculture, environment, tourism, education and other sectors at a local level. This cooperation has yielded surprising results, which will be presented by our colleagues in the further course of this meeting.

The project has long surpassed the local frameworks and it represents an added value not only for the region but also for the entire country. In the project activities we followed the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the experience of their experts from the Centre in Venice, who deserve my special thanks on this occasion.

We are pleased and proud that the programme was declared an example of good practice in fighting excess body weight and obesity and won an award at the WHO ministerial conference in Istanbul in 2006.

I am sure that the conference will generate many new ideas and provide you with new skills that may prove useful in your future work. This is actually the basic purpose of the conference and workshops which you are going to attend today and tomorrow.

I hope today's meeting will encourage and promote closer cooperation and mutual SINERGY of efforts of various ministries and actors in our countries as well as at the level of the European Union. Sinergy is, nevertheless, the slogan of Slovenia's Presidency.

Dear guests, in conclusion, allow me to thank you for your participation at this meeting, to wish you a pleasant stay, and fruitful work in this pleasant spa environment.

Welcome to Slovenia!


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Date: 25.03.2008