Italy is the fourth European country for childhood overweight and obesity

It was 2016 when in the UK, then governed by Conservative Theresa Maya campaign for the cure and the prevention of childhood obesity. In a similar way to that adopted in the United States by Michelle Obamawhich has always fought against the ubiquitous junk food in school canteens, even in Great Britain, already six years ago, on the initiative of principals and teachers of compulsory schools, the alarm, expressed in a rather brutal note, revolted to obese children, which went like this: “Put your kids on a diet”. There were criticism and controversy, especially by the families called into question, yet the data spoke for itself: in 2016, one in five children was overweight or obese when they entered compulsory school, and at the end of primary school the ratio rose to one in three. And if the British data, again six years ago, were alarming, things were no better in the other European countries, to the point that theWorld Health Organization for the first time he warned companies and governments: «We discover – wrote the Omsa – that children, especially the most vulnerable, are exposed to countless hidden digital marketing techniques, which promote foods rich in fat, sugar and salt. Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, also added that parents would become much more unaware of the harmful impact of digital marketing, “but this report makes clear the effect of such selling on our children. It is the responsibility of politicians to recognize the new threat posed by digital marketing of food to children and act quickly.”

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They may have been indelicate, but probably the warnings launched in English schools have borne fruit, given that since then it really seems that the United Kingdom has improved the general picture, while in the Mediterranean countries the situation has reversed, with a clear and alarming worsening. It seems a paradox, given the reputation of the “Mediterranean diet” as the healthiest and most balanced on the continent, yet the evidence says that among children there is a proliferation of bad habits. According to new data from the «COSI» (Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative) report of the European Office of the World Health Organization (WHO), Italy is, in fact, fourth in Europe for childhood overweight and obesity, surpassed only by Cyprus, Greece and Spain. If we only consider obesity, our country is even in second place. In Europe, the overall percentage is 29% of children (between 7 and 9 years) who are overweight or obese, but the differences between countries are considerable: from 6% in Tajikistan to 43% in Cyprus. In short, Northern Europe, the one we associate with saturated fats, indifference towards vegetables and fruit, excessive consumption of meat, junk food and a lack of alternative proposals, has evidently changed the diet of the under 10s, improving it. But above all, we will see, still in Northern Europe, it is more common to kick children out of the house, to make them go and sweat on some sports field.

It is no coincidence that Italy also has one of the highest percentages of children who spend at least an average of 2 hours a day in front of the television or screens: from 18% in Austria to 74% in San Marino, followed by Italy (72%) and Estonia (64%). With regard to lifestyles, the WHO report also shows that 67% (2 out of 3) of Italian children aged between 6 and 9 go to school by car against a European average of 50%, and it is enough to pass in front of a school building, whether it is kindergarten, kindergarten or elementary school, to see the overcrowding of cars. And here too: we certainly have a milder climate, compared to Germany, Denmark, Austria, yet the culture of alternative means does not pass, does not sink: there are fewer and fewer bikes, Italian parents seem terrified of any temperature dropping below 20 degrees , and they don’t absorb the (very Swedish) concept that the more you plug a child in a closed place, the more you damage him.

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In an article from 2020, when the Italian percentages were very similar to those of today, Il Fatto Alimentare argued that among the causes of the surge in childhood obeistty there are also “inadequate nutritional policies and other things to think about. The authorities of our country – wrote the nutritionist Antonio Pratesi – are against the Nutri-Score (one of the best traffic light label systems that signals the nutrient intake of food, easy to understand, but not adopted in Italy, the only state European Union to refuse it) and we don’t want the sugar tax”.“A cultural change must be encouraged that sees a healthy lifestyle in childhood as the basis for a healthy future life” says the President of SIP Annamaria Staiano, commenting on the new WHO/European Region report. It should be encouraged, and Staiano also agrees, in those who take care of the children, what we have defined above as a radical cultural change, which sees in a healthy lifestyle and therefore less lazy, less seated, less spoiled, the basis for a future healthy life. “The effort – says the President of Sip – is to see, for example, healthy eating not as a burden for the commitment it requires at the family level, in organizational and sometimes even economic terms, but as an investment for a path of well-being that also includes movement and physical activity.

The keys to psychophysical well-being are all here and we never tire of remembering them: balanced meals, long walks preferably in the countryside, sports preferably in a group”. “We paediatricians – adds President Staiano – encourage parents or those who take care of children to walk to school, whenever possible. Moving on foot in the neighbourhood, in one’s country, in one’s reference area, moreover, it favors peer relationships and this is also a good thing. On the screens I would like to recall the contents of a recommendation that Sip issued in 2018, i.e. avoid smartphones and tablets before the age of two, during meals and before going to sleep, limit their use to a maximum of 1 hour a day in children between the ages of 2 and 5 and a maximum of 2 hours a day (which, if we can, is not a little at all) for those between the ages of 5 and 8″. The fact is that 43% of Italian children already spend at least two hours a day in front of a tablet or television, and the figure increases considerably at the weekend, where it exceeds 70%. To say that really, everything passes through the parents: only children abandoned in front of the screens, scarcity of alternative activities proposed, life in the open air, forgive it. Perhaps, one might say, some slightly more brutal, British-style lash would be very useful at this point.

Italy is the fourth European country for childhood overweight and obesity