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DEFENDING THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET: ALSO THANKS TO "GIOCAMPUS”, THE NUMBER OF OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN IN PARMA HAS FALLEN DURING THE LAST 10 YEARS

A recent article in The Guardian reports that children in Italy and other Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Greece and Cyprus, are the fattest in Europe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a paradoxical situation has arisen in which, in the countries which were the cradle of the Mediterranean Diet - the healthy, balanced nutritional model based mainly on foods of vegetable origin combined in a diversified, balanced diet - 4 out of 10 children are overweight. In Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, on the other hand, children eat a healthy diet and combine this with constant exercise. The WHO chose the institutional context of the European Congress on Obesity to raise the alarm: “the Mediterranean diet is gone, and we need to recover it”.

The situation in southern Italy is particularly worrying. In the very places where US scientist Ancel Keys "discovered" the Mediterranean diet in the post-war years and proclaimed the health benefits of this nutritional and lifestyle model, today's obesity rates are the highest in the country, 25% above the national average.

However, there is a project for combating child obesity, ready and awaiting replication. Actually in Italy, in Parma, the Giocampus project has been running for 18 years and has so far involved no fewer than 35,000 children from 5 to 14 years of age, and their families, in a unique blend of learning, play and friendship. The aim of Giocampus is to promote the health of future generations through an integrated program of physical and dietary education, with a strictly scientific approach that engages with children all year round: at school (Giocampus Scuola) with 60 hours per year of physical education and 20 of dietary education in primary schools, but also during the summer and through winter sports (Giocampus Estate and Giocampus Neve), with a large assortment of play, sports and recreational activities, as well as educational placements for the oldest participants.

The Giocampus project is centered on the individual child and his skills, talents and aspirations, aiming to use play to teach him the principles of healthy eating. Through play, with activities chosen to stimulate the child's curiosity, key information about health, diet and correct lifestyles is provided in an informal way: for example, children learn how to read a nutritional label, the importance of water and its role in our bodies and why dietary fiber protects us, find out about the world of carbohydrates, and "play" with fruit, vegetables and breakfast foods.

The key factor in Giocampus' success is its involvement of families: with Giocampus, parents return to school, too, to understand and recognize the most common mistakes made in the home, and encourage their children to adopt correct lifestyles.

The results of the Giocampus project are encouraging, to say the least. In the last 10 years, the percentage of overweight children amongst those who have taken part in the project has fallen by 25%. Over the same period, the number of children who used to skip breakfast has dropped significantly. Fruit consumption during the all-important first meal of the day has actually increased by +120%.
The children and teenagers involved have also made impressive progress with regard to exercise. Thanks to the large number of different sports on offer, an increase in both lower limb speed strength and joint mobility was recorded. The Pedibus project has also been a great success: the percentage of children walking to school has risen by 102%.

Giocampus is run by a public-private alliance and its founders also include Barilla, a long-standing promoter of the program, since it is perfectly in line with the Italian firm's business model, summed up by its mission statement “Good for You, Good for the Planet”. An approach that places issues of environmental sustainability, Barilla's social role in its host communities, health, food safety and nutrition firmly in the center of the Group's business model.

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