> ANSA English > News

Italian children 'are too inactive, have poor diet'

But under-five mortality rate among world's lowest

15 January, 17:32
Italian children 'are too inactive, have poor diet' (By Shelly Kittleson) (ANSA) - Rome, January 15 - Nearly one in every four children (23%) in Italy do not exercise or play sports, warned a study presented Wednesday in Rome.

However, Italy boasts one of the lowest mortality rates in the world for children under age five, the Italian national statistics agency ISTAT said.

The director of the Italian office of Save the Children, Valerio Neri, said "Italian children do not get enough exercise and eat badly. The situation is serious and has got worse due to the crisis. This should worry all of us.'' The study, conducted by IPSOS for Save the Children and the Mondelēz International Foundation in Italy, shows that 28% of the time the reason is the economic situation of their families, a 13% rise from 2012. US-based Mondelēz International, Inc is one of the world's largest snacks companies.

The presentation marked three years of activity of the project 'Pronti, Partenza, Via!' ('Ready, Set, Go!'). The project aims to encourage physical activity and healthy-eating education in the outskirts of 10 Italian cities. Some 70,000 parents and children have been reached thus far and the project will continue throughout 2014. Raffaella Milano, Italy-Europe program director for Save the Children, said that playing fields, green spaces, cycling paths and other areas had been recovered in order to render them available to all the area's inhabitants. The figures show a 2% rise in the number of children not engaging in any sort of sports activity in their free time. Some 35% of parents interviewed said that their children were not interested in sports, while 28% cited the costliness of facilities. Almost half of all parents, 44%, did not engage in any sort of physical activity either, compared with 32% in 2012%.

Four in 10 children regularly travel by car and only 24% (30% in 2012) on foot and 9% (11%) by bicycle. A full 73% of children spend their free time in their homes, and 47% of those who watch television do so for between one and three hours every day. Thirty-six percent of parents (26% in 2012) complain of a lack of open spaces for children to meet with their friends due to a slight drop in the availability of sports facilities. At school, 9% of children do not engage in physical activity, with no facilities available in 39% of the cases (29% in 2012). Most parents say that they know basic healthy-eating notions but the study found a slight drop in the number of children and adolescents eating fruit and vegetables at every meal (35% compared with 37% in 2012) or once a day (35% compared with 39%).

Nine percent do not have breakfast, but nine out of 10 Italian families still sit down together for dinner. Neri warned that children tend not to go outside to play and that if they play sports, they do it in "a militaristic manner". Only one in every 10 parents admit that their child is overweight. Mondelez's Corporate Affairs Southern Europe director Stefano Robba stressed the importance of "promoting healthy lifestyles, physical activity, balance and psychological well-being, as well as attention to food choices".

The ISTAT study, on the other hand, noted that there were 2,084 under-five deaths in 2011, compared with 399,505 in 1887: a reduction from 347 deaths per 1,000 births to about four per 1,000. Sweden has the lowest under-five mortality rate in Europe, followed by France.

While in the late 19th century young children in Italy died mainly due to infectious diseases, 72% of deaths are now due to conditions of birth (48%) and genetic defects (24%), ISTAT said.

In 2011, 85% of deaths of those under age five in Italy occurred in the first year of life and a full half in the first seven days. The agency reported that the mortality rate at birth was 2.9 per 1,000 in 2011. It is higher for children born to mothers of foreign nationalities living in Italy, at 4.3 per 1,000.

Since 2006 the mortality rate of native Italians has always been lower than that of foreigners in Italy, though both have seen reductions. An analysis of infant mortality - linked as it is to healthcare, environmental and social conditions - can indicate differing levels of wealth between Italians and immigrants. Foreign women give birth to more children with health problems, especially ones related to the cardiovascular system, which medical advances have enabled to survive the first month but often not beyond that.