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Public Health

Health-EU newsletter 256 - Focus

Back-to-school may be different, but the EU’s commitment to giving kids a healthy start is the same

The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year is unlike any other, with COVID-19 still necessitating some restrictions and local authorities ready to react in case of outbreaks. But one thing hasn’t changed - the EU’s commitment to giving school children a healthy start in life. We asked the Commission’s Director of Public Health John F. Ryan about several activities that have particular relevance as the new academic year begins: the EU Health Award, the Fruit and Vegetable Scheme and EU School Sports Day.

How does the 2020 EU Health Award benefit children?

The 2020 EU Health Award benefits school children by rewarding and sharing initiatives designed to protect and boost their health in two different ways – by promoting healthy lifestyles and by promoting vaccination in children 6 to 18 years old. Both are vital to children’s health, and the Health Award helps increase awareness and to encourage greater engagement.

In addition, schools are eligible to compete for both these prizes, which offer generous prizes to help them continue their work in promoting good health. The healthy lifestyle category is open to cities too, and the vaccination category is open to NGOs and kindergartens as well as to schools. There is still time to take part - the deadline for submissions is 16 September 2020.

The EU Health Award also raises awareness of the vital role that schools, kindergartens, cities and NGOs play in promoting public health, and the initiatives submitted for the award are showcased as good practices that can be adapted for use elsewhere or serve as inspiration.

What is the EU’s Fruit and Vegetable scheme?

The EU is investing €250 million per school year through 2023 for this initiative that distributes fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and certain milk products free of charge to schoolchildren. The scheme also funds education outside, like trips to local farms, school gardens, cooking workshops, theme days and games.

By seeing where food comes from and how to prepare and enjoy healthy meals, kids are much more likely to adopt good habits. This is an important thing to learn, at home and at school. Having a healthy diet – and getting enough physical exercise - are among the 12 ways people can reduce their risk of cancer, as outlined in the European Code of Cancer.

Will the European School Sports Day take place this year?

The 6th European School Sport Day will take place on 25 September 2020, despite the challenges presented by Covid-19. It’s more important than ever to encourage physical activity because the pandemic has impacted children’s emotional and social wellbeing, and being physically active can help ward off anxiety and depression as well as help keep students physically fit.

This year, schools are invited to show how they are adapting their activities by planning off- or online events, or a mix of both, observing national and local guidelines. Online physical education sessions will be streamed across Europe and schools can also upload their own videos on the official website (See the European School Sport Day Toolkit and Communications Handbook, online).

European School Sport Day is co-funded by the Commission’s Erasmus + programme and is part of the #BeActive European Week of Sport. Last year, 9000 schools in 44 countries helped 3 million children to be physically active that day for two hours total. But it’s our hope that encouraging children to be more physically active isn’t seen as a yearly challenge, but as a daily goal.

Activities at EU level

Nutrition and physical activity

European Commission – Health and Food Safety


European Commission – Health and Food Safety

Health Policy Platform

European Commission – Health and Food Safety

Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu)

European Commission – Joint Research Centre

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Knowledge Gateway

European Commission – Joint Research Centre


2020 EU Health Award – One of two calls is on Vaccination: Deadline 16 September 2020

NGOs, schools and kindergartens seeking to promote vaccination in children (0 -18 years old) are eligible to submit their initiatives. With this award, the Commission is supporting vaccination, which WHO estimates saves 2-3 million lives annually.

2020 EU Health Award - One of two calls is on Healthy Lifestyles: Deadline 16 September 2020

Schools and cities with initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles for children (from 6 to 18 years old) are eligible. Eating healthy and being physically active at young age are key to ensure a permanent healthy lifestyle later in life.

Online and in schools - European School Sport Day will take place 25 September!

Funded through the EU’s Erasmus Plus Programme, this initiative calls on schools to get their students active on Sport Day for at least 120 minutes. One challenge is to run or walk 2020 meters in 2020, but any kind of physical activity counts, like hopping, skipping, and dancing!

European Week of Sport 23 – 30 September 2020 focuses on mental and physical health

The annual European Week of Sport encourages people to adopt an active lifestyle through a variety of ways – many of them now more creative and accessible online. Throughout the pandemic, sport has provided a way to maintain our physical and mental wellbeing.

Commission launches #BeActiveAtHome to help people stay active despite lockdown and restrictions

Sport and physical activity improve physical and mental health and overall wellbeing too. The Commission invited people to show others how they were keeping fit during the coronavirus crisis – to help people across Europe and beyond to #BeActiveAtHome!

Learn more about the Commission’s initiatives on nutrition and physical activity

The Commission works to reduce aggressive marketing of junk food to children, to encourage the reformulation of food to lower sugar, fat and salt content, to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to school children and to make it easy to be physically active at school and in the community.

European Commission to adopt a new Digital Education Action Plan

The new Action Plan will apply the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis and set out a long-term vision for the digital transformation of education and training in the EU.

The Commission’s DigCompEdu framework helps teachers to benefit fully from digital technologies

The DigCompEdu general reference framework targets educators at all levels, from pre primary to vocational, higher and adult education. It identifies competences teachers should acquire to make full use of digital technologies for teaching, learning and assessment.

European Commission tool, ’SELFIE’ can help schools plan online teaching for the new school year

SELFIE (Self-reflection on Effective Learning by Fostering the use of Innovative Educational Technologies) is a free, easy-to-use, customisable tool designed to help schools embed digital technologies into teaching, learning and student assessment.

JRC report on the likely impact of COVID-19 on education

The report highlights the difficulties faced by schools and students during this period, and recommends that schools prepare for alternative teaching methods, including online teaching.

The Commission publishes policy brief on educational inequalities in Europe and physical school closures during COVID-19

The report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre further underlines the need for targeted actions to help disadvantaged children catch up.

2 in 5 schools around the world lacked basic handwashing facilities prior to COVID-19 pandemic — UNICEF, WHO

Data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme show that 43% of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for being able to operate safely during the pandemic.

ECDC: COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control gives an overview of the epidemiology and disease characteristics of COVID-19 in children (0-18) in EU/EEA countries and the UK, and assesses the role of childcare settings in COVID-19 transmission.

Health Programme Projects

Obtains E2: OBesity Training And Information Services in Europe - phase 2

OBTAINS-E2 supports access to best-practice weight management services and strives to make reliable information available to everyone, with a special focus on reducing inequalities and developing policies to tackle obesity across the region.

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