Okkio alla SALUTE is a very important survey in Italy that included 50,000 primary school children and its goal is to monitor their weight and lifestyle. The data from the latest version (VI, spring 2019) has been available for a few weeks. Let’s look at them together.
Unfortunately, Italian children are still in a critical situation: 3 out of 10 are overweight (29.8%), of which 1 is obese (9.4%). We are second only to Cyprus, and almost at par with Greece and Spain. The prevalence is highest in the southern regions.
Another aspect which is worth looking at is the high prevalence of obesity among families with a low socioeconomic status. Our Foundation works closely with these families both through free health care in the nutritional field, and via education and awareness programs on issues related to health and longevity. As a result, the Valter Longo Onlus Foundation carries out free educational projects for primary and secondary schools with the aim of teaching them proper nutrition. We are convinced that, if children are more aware of what foods they consume, they can be the ones to set the example for health and longevity, and even motivate adults to change their own lifestyle to live better and longer lives. If you want to organize a free webinar for your school, please send an email to email@example.com
The survey also revealed some of the unhealthiest habits among children:
skipping breakfast (8.7%) or consuming breakfast incorrectly (35.6%), which often leads to consuming a large snack (55.5%),
low daily consumption of fruits and vegetables (24.3%), seldom intake of legumes (38.4% less than once per week),
daily intake of sugary or carbonated beverages (25.4%), although the latter decreased compared to the latest data.
consumption of sweet snack more than 3 times per week (48.3%),
consumption of salty snack more than 3 times per week (9,4%).
It is no coincidence that in the countries bordering the Mediterranean, cradle of the famous Mediterranean diet, there are more overweigh children. In fact, this phenomenon is due to a poor interpretation of the Mediterranean diet itself. In the Okkio alla Salute survey, there is no available data about the consumption of foods that are healthy but can lose their benefits when consumed too frequently. Among these are pasta, bread, potatoes, and pizza.
Previous studies such as the 2005-2006 INRAN-SCAI study done in Italy showed that children consume about 700 grams of foods that cause elevated glucose levels. Of these, approximately 75% (520 grams) come from bread, pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes, and fruit juices, while 25% come from sweets, pastries, cooking sugar, ice cream, and sugary drinks. Foods rich in starch quickly elevate blood glucose levels, even more than junk food and carbonated drinks, which Italian children consume less and less. More specifically, bread, pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes, fruit, and fruit juices consumed daily by many Italian children produce a glucose levels equivalent to 5 cans of sugar carbonated drinks daily, both in quantity and the release of glucose into the blood.
Another important aspect is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. In 2019, 20.3% of children did not engage in any form of physical activity the day before the survey was given. The 2020 results don’t look promising either.
What is the solution? First of all, we need to recognize the problem: only 59.7% of parents are aware that their child is overweight; only 40.9% are aware that their child is not physically active; and only 30.1% are aware that their child eats too much.
To offer our support and useful advice for children and their families, the nutritionists of the Valter Longo Onlus Foundation have created a list of indications in order to avoid overweight and improve the health of children: longevity begins in childhood.
1. OKkio alla SALUTE, 6th Edition, 2019.
2. The Italian National Food Consumption Survey INRAN-SCAI 2005-06: Main Results in Terms of Food Consumption. 2009, “Public Health Nutrition”
3. Longo, Valter. La longevità inizia da bambini (The Seeds of Longevity Are Planted in Childhood). Milano: Vallardi, 2019.