Maurizio Vanelli

Childhood obesity is a worsening social emergency that should be treated as a public health problem. This approach requires a global intervention as part of a multi-sectoral commitment to community welfare. Local government, education authorities, university, sports clubs, family pediatricians, food industry and media have to be involved in a public-private alliance against these growing unhealthy lifestyles. The school is the best place to achieve the project.

This new strategy that we named "Giocampus" (the prefix "gio" stands for "gioco" ‒ "play" in Italian) has been experimented in primary schools of the northern city of Parma, Italy. Over a period of 5 years, 20 hours of nutritional education and 60 hours of physical training, both based on the "learning by doing" methodology, were included each year within the school curriculum of more than 10,000 school children. At the start of the school years, training courses in nutritional education were organized for teachers and parents. Practical classes in the preparation of meals with reduced fat content were offered by "Academia Barilla". The intervention has benefited in terms of community awareness from a high-profile media campaign via radio, television and newspapers; posters on Giocampus mission were displayed throughout the city, in the streets, buses, schools, supermarkets, pharmacies, pediatricians' and dentists' offices.

The results have been encouraging: obesity trend was stopped around 9.5%, the number of children who routinely skipped breakfast dropped from 22% to 8% and the initial correlation between those who skipped breakfast and rates of obesity disappeared. Moreover, the consumption of fruit increased by 30%; the percentage of children who eat breakfast while watching television fell from 30% to 18 %; and the number of children enrolled in organized sports rose three-fold and the number of children who go to school on foot increased by 125%.

The results achieved to date in Parma via the partnership between the public bodies and the private sector underline the effectiveness of a preventive, protective initiative as part of a strong commitment to community welfare.
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