Millions of Europeans at risk of chronic digestive diseases, new report reveals

21. 05. 2019 | UEG Press Release

Poor nutritional choices, including a high intake of ultra-processed foods and trans-fats, are putting millions of Europeans at an increased risk of a range of chronic digestive diseases, including digestive cancers, wheat related disorders and functional GI disorders, as well as obesity, a new report shows [1].

Millions of Europeans at risk of chronic digestive diseases, new report reveals

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‘Nutrition and Chronic Digestive Diseases’, launched today by United European Gastroenterology (UEG) and supported by twelve medical associations, patient organisations and NGOs, canvasses the opinion of a number of leading experts in the fields of nutrition, digestive cancers, liver diseases, functional gastrointestinal disorders and paediatrics.

The Ultra-processed Food Endemic

The report outlines how ultra-processed foods, which are often high in fat, added sugar and salt, now frequently contribute to up to half of modern European energy intake and, in some countries, over 75% of mean energy intake.

Consumption of ultra-processed foods has dramatically increased in recent decades, with common examples including soft drinks, confectionary, crisps and frozen ready meals. Studies have shown that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cancer and suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of these food types may be driving the growing cancer burden. A 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet, for example, is associated with a 12% increased overall cancer risk.

In addition to a raised risk of chronic diseases, high consumption of these foods also increases the prevalence of obesity. Alarmingly, over half (52%) of the EU’s population aged 18 and over is now overweight or obese and 1 in 3 of Europe’s school children are estimated to be overweight.

“Obesity, often driven by poor nutritional choices, increases the risk of a range of serious digestive health conditions and causes a significant healthcare burden, high societal costs, misery for patients and, ultimately, shortens lives”, explains Professor Markus Peck, Department of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Klinikum Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Austria. “Healthy balanced diets and lifestyles can help prevent chronic digestive diseases but the difficulty we face is ensuring our citizens make the right choices in following these lifestyles.”

An Action Plan for Europe

The report makes a number of recommendations in order to reduce the risk and impact of chronic digestive diseases, including:

  • Less than 10% (<50 grams), but ideally 5%, of total daily energy intake of sugar
  • Less than 10% of total daily energy intake of saturated fats
  • Less than 1% of total daily energy intake of trans-fats
  • Less than 5g of salt per day

“We need the European Commission and national governments to act now on initiatives to change the way in which we buy and consume food”, states Professor Peck. “Our aim should be to achieve a European-wide transformation to healthy diets by 2050. This would require the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to be reduced by more than 50% over the next 30 years.”

“If we are to fight the burgeoning prevalence of overweight, obese and unhealthy people in Europe, and the healthcare burden and loss of life that it brings, then we must act now”, concludes Professor Peck.


  1. Nutrition and Chronic Digestive Diseases: An Action Plan for Europe. United European Gastroenterology (UEG), 2019.

Keywords: obesity, chronic digestive diseases, children, adults, processed foods, gut microbes, wheat-related disorders, functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs), healthy nutrition recommendations