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Obesity a Heavy Issue for Italians
A WHO report spots severe weight problems among Italian children and adults
Roberto Spiezio (seong)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2005-05-27 12:25 (KST)   
Pre-obese and obese Italian 15-year-olds and the European average
©2005 WHO Europe
I clearly remember that when I was a kid the people around me used to continuously repeat that I shouldn't eat too many sweets, cakes, or ice cream, or drink too many soft drinks, because it would harm my health.

At the time I was quite annoyed by these words, and I thought these prohibitions were quite unreasonable. Ice cream was good, so why couldn't I eat it?

A few years have passed and nowadays I can see kids from elementary, middle and high schools during breaks from classes who stuff themselves with junk food, especially sweets and packaged cakes, let alone countless multicolor and multi-shaped candies.

Currently it's not rare to see obese kids in Italy: boys and girls who eat basically anything at any time. There is at least one obese kid in every class, the infamous "fatso," the target of the usual pranksters.

Unfortunately these perceptions seem to be confirmed by the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO) last year. According to data on height and weight collected in schools, about 17 percent of boys and 7 percent of girls aged 15 years old in Italy are considered to be nearing obesity, and 3 percent of boys and 1 percent of girls, obese. Italy has a ratio of pre-obese 15-year-olds that is even higher than the European average (excluding a few countries). (Source: WHO Europe 2004)

The problem is not purely aesthetic. The perception of oneself as having an unpleasant appearance and the teasing by others can affect self-esteem and prevent an obese child from socializing properly in a period of life -- the teen years -- that is crucial in shaping children into men and women.

For children and adolescents, the main problem associated with being overweight, in particular obesity, is its persistence into adult life and its association with the risk of diabetes and other diseases, such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and some types of cancer (breast and colon cancer, to name a few) that can appear in adulthood.

The causes of obesity in childhood and adolescence are various. Experts say that the problem is connected not only to bad habits -- overeating and eating unhealthy food -- but to a lack of physical activity.

Nowadays many Italian kids spend a lot of time in front of the TV or a computer screen, contributing to their sedentary lifestyle. Children don't dedicate enough time to open-air activities.

Another important factor to consider is family environment: low socio-economic level -- which allows for fewer chances to eat better quality food -- obese parents and negligent parents are all factors that may favor obesity in kids.

Even the data about adult obesity in Italy -- 48 percent of men and 34 percent of women in Italy are overweight, and about 10 percent of men as well as women are obese -- are surprising, because the country has always been well renowned for its food. What's more, its Mediterranean diet model has always been considered one of the healthiest in the world.

Overweight and obese adults in Italy and the European average
©2005 WHO Europe
This diet consists of vegetables; fruit; cereals; little meat and animal fat, more fish; olive oil; wine, especially during meals; fresh legumes and an adequate amount of physical exercise every day, at least 30 minutes a day for adults, according to the WHO.

The hope is that Italians remember their long-standing traditions, abandon junk food and embrace the Mediterranean diet again, just like Japanese seem to have recently done with their own healthy, traditional cuisine.

According to the 2004 data provided by Coldiretti, the main Italian agricultural organization, there has been an increase of 4 percent in imports of Italian agricultural products, an approximate value of more than $600 million.
Information about Mediterranean Diet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_diet

Country highlights on health, Italy 2004:
http://www.who.dk/eprise/main/WHO/Progs/CHHITA/burden/20050131_2
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Roberto Spiezio

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