17 March 2017: World Sleep Day
17 March 2017
The Giocampus project - which for 15 years has been helping schoolchildren in Parma to eat well and exercise, according to the Mediterranean Diet - turns the spotlight on a hidden problem that increasingly affects Italian children: the quality of sleep. According to the researchers of the University of Parma, while children sleep 9 hours on average (as recommended), the quality of their sleep is not adequate. Here are the causes of (and solutions to) this problem.
Thanks to the Giocampus project (promoted, among others, by Barilla), which involves two weekly hours of physical education and nutritional education in primary schools, the number of overweight children in Parma has decreased by 25% in 3 years.
Parma, 17 March 2017 - The Mediterranean Diet and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle do not mean just eating well and exercising, but also sleeping well. And not all Italian children do, if in spite of sleeping an appropriate number of hours (on average 9) the quality of their sleep is not always fully satisfactory. This is what emerged from a study carried out by University of Parma researchers in the context of the Giocampus nutritional and physical education project: 19% of children (138 out of 720) attending the last year of primary school in Parma suffer from poor sleep quality.
Starting from the often-neglected principle that in order to study adherence to a diet (understood, etymologically, as lifestyle and not exclusively as a diet program) it is necessary to take into account many different factors, University of Parma researchers examined the quality of children's sleep and found that it is often not optimal. This can affect their overall health status: for example, they may feel tired when they awake (84%) or risk falling asleep at school in mid morning and in the afternoon (73%). What are the habits that can contribute to poor sleep quality? They include sharing a bed or a room (with possible external interference due to the presence of family members and/or pets: 44.4% of the sample), the use of cell phones or tablets in bed (1.4%), keeping the light partially or completely on (29.8%), eating or drinking (including caffeine) before going to bed (70.3%), and getting up to go to the bathroom, even several times a night (30.7%).
PHYSICALLY ACTIVE, THEY FOLLOW A MEDITERRANEAN DIET (AND IT SHOWS)
In addition, the study confirms that through school nutritional and physical education it is possible to improve children's approach to a proper diet and teach them how to best manage the relationship between food and physical activity. 68.5% of these children are either physically active or very active, with a very small percentage of sedentary kids (13.2%). Most children in Parma aged 9-10 follow the Mediterranean Diet (91%), considered one of the best diet regimens in the world – one that our country unfortunately is slowly giving up.
All this has a positive effect also on overweight and obese levels (respectively at 17.4% and 9.7% of the total), which are below the Italian average. According to the most recent data, Italy is at the third place in the world for overnutrition and at the second for child obesity: the average in Central Italy exceeds 30%, while in the South and in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia nearly 38% of children are obese.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP FOR A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
The study therefore shows many positive findings, while at the same time opening up a new line of investigation. «Based on our analyses we can state that the children in Parma have a rather good fitnesslevel, they follow the Mediterranean diet pretty closely and they sleep for an appropriate number of hours for their age» says Professor Francesca Scazzina, scientific manager of the project. «However, sleep quality should be improved and it might be useful to organize educational programmes about sleep in addition to those about diet and exercise, which are yielding interesting results. For example, we found that many children use smartphones or tablets before sleeping, and we could address these habits within Giocampus, through sleep education programmes.»
GIOCAMPUS FIGURES ARE IN LINE WITH NATIONAL ONES: 18-20% OF ITALIAN CHILDREN SUFFER FROM POOR SLEEP QUALITY
The last World Sleep Day, held in March 2016, devoted great attention to the increase of sleep-related problems among children. According to experts, one of the root causes of this problem is the so-called abuse of technology (always connected to cell phones until late, tablets brought to bed, videogames played until the very last moment before going to sleep).
As a result, in the last decade the number of children and young people with sleep-related problems has increased from less than 10% to 18-20% (source: Sleep Disorders Centre of the San Raffaele Turro Institute for Treatment and Research in Milan). These statistics, as we have seen, are in line with the results of the studies carried out by the Giocampus project.
It is a serious mistake to assume that a few hours less of sleep, or sleep that is not completely uninterrupted and deep, is not such a great issue as far as people’s health is concerned. When phenomena become chronic they can contribute to the onset of obesity, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, and even strokes, heart attacks and depression. In particular, inadequate sleep can cause deficits in children's psycho-physical development and hinder socialization and proper nutrition, as at night important hormones are produced and memory is strengthened. This is why sleeping well in old age is considered a protective factor against cognitive decline and senile dementia.
GIOCAMPUS: LEARNING ABOUT PHYSICAL FITNESS AND NUTRITION THROUGH PLAYING. OVER 3 YEARS OF OBSERVATION -25% OF OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN
Giocampus (www.giocampus.it) is an innovative project set up fifteen years ago by a public-private alliance - among the founders were Barilla, Coni, The Municipality of Parma, Parma University, Parma CUS and the Regional School Office - whose objective is to promote the wellbeing of future generations through an integrated programme of physical fitness and nutritional education.
Since 2002, Giocampus has involved over 40,000 primary schoolchildren in Parma, together with their families, in a unique experience combining education, play and friendship. It is a unique initiative in Italy, as it addresses the wellbeing of future generations through a rigorously scientific approach and activities available to children throughout the year: first all in school (Giocampus Scuola) with 60 hours a year of physical education and 20 years of nutritional education in primary school, but also in the summer and on the ski fields (Giocampus Estate and Giocampus Neve), with many recreational and sporting activities for everyone and training experiences for the older children.
The results are encouraging, to say the least. Over 3 years of observation, the percentage of overweight children among those who participated in the project has dropped from 15.5% to 11.7% (-25%). In the same period, the number of children skipping breakfast has dropped from 22% to 8%, while the percentage of those watching television while having breakfast as fallen from 18% to 9%. Fruit consumption during the first, critical meal of the day has increased by 120%. Important progress was also recorded in the area of children’s and kids’ motor activity. The numerous and diversified sporting activities have resulted in an increase in lower limb speed strength (+11%) and in joint mobility (+22.8%). The Pedibus initiative was also very successful: the percentage of children who started walking to school has risen by 120%.
New partners and supporters joining the project through the years have extended the project's reach to the province of Parma: to Busseto, Salsomaggiore, Sorbolo, San Polo and Torrile.
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