Italian children are among the most obese in Europe, in spite of the much-acclaimed Mediterranean diet, and the females are the most overweight. Nevertheless, Italy also has the highest rate of childhood obesity among males (21% on an equal footing with Cyprus), while 42% of males are obese or overweight. Italian girls have one of the highest rates of obesity and overweight: 38%. We talk about this topic with Dr. Marco Nuara, pediatrician of San Pio X Humanitas.
The Mediterranean Paradox
Despite the fact that Mare Nostrum has given its name to the most famous and healthy diet in the world, the countries around it have the highest rate of childhood obesity: The Mediterranean paradox. The latest data from the Childhood Obesity Surveillance initiative of the World Health Organization show that in Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Greece and Malta about one in five children (from 18% to 21%) is obese. However, despite the high global rate, in several countries, including Italy, there has been a significant reduction in the problem.
Another positive aspect that also concerns Italian children is the consumption of fruit at least every other day, if not almost every day, and the reduced consumption of fast food and pizza.
“Following the Mediterranean diet does not mean simply eating traditional Italian dishes – the pediatrician points out – for example pasta and pizza every day. The much-acclaimed Mediterranean diet, synonymous with health and well being, is the poor cuisine of our grandparents. They consumed large quantities of fruit and vegetables at zero km, legumes at least 5-6 times a week and the consumption of animal protein was limited, especially meat”.
According to the specialist, to understand whether we are really following the true Mediterranean diet, it would be enough for each of us to compare our habits at table with the food pyramid: “The economic well-being and development of the food and transport industry has led to changes in our consumption – said Nuara – At present in Italy children consume in particular too much meat and too many sugars. The tradition of structuring the meal in appetizer, first and second course and dessert helps to encourage excess. Think of an appetizer with bread and cold cuts, a first course of lasagna and a second course of meat with potatoes. Practically three complete meals that can be stacked within a single meal. In contrast, ‘ethnic’ cuisine generally includes a single main course with protein, cereals and oil. Paradoxically, therefore, non-Italian cuisine is currently more balanced than native cuisine”.
Data from the World Health Organization
Those on obesity rates in Italian children are the latest data presented by the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (2015-17) of the World Health Organization, published a few months ago at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna.
The study involved about 250 thousand children between 6 and 10 years of age. France, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Lithuania are among the countries with the most children in line with child obesity rates ranging from 5 to 9%. On the positive side, however, it should be noted that in countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece, although obesity and overweight rates are high, there has been a significant decrease attributable to the enormous effort that individual countries have spent in recent years in preventing and controlling this disease linked to poor eating habits.
The importance of “food culture” and the fight against sedentariness
In addition to an increasingly lower food culture (although in recent years the trend seems to be reversed), according to Dr. Nuara another substantial difference to keep in mind compared to previous generations and that contributes to the increase in overweight is the greater sedentariness. “If years ago I went to school on foot and I spent my free time running behind a ball, now the children are accompanied by a car to the door of the school and they spend their free time in front of a screen,” concluded the specialist, confirming that the fight against sedentary lifestyle is an essential step if you want to reduce childhood obesity.