N° 41 | January 2010

The gap between recommendations and real consumption in Italy

Results of the last Italian National Food Consumption Survey show
the need to increase the consumption of Fruit and Vegetables (F&V) and legumes and to decrease the consumption of red meat.

Recommendations in Italy

Food consumption patterns are changing rapidly in the Italian population. Important factors of change are the evolution of lifestyle, the availability of a large variety of new intensively advertised food products and the progressive ageing of the population. A steady increase of meals consumed away from home and of convenience foods has been observed1. The traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in plant foods, is being modified2.

The Italian Ministry of Agriculture funded the third national food consumption survey, named INRAN-SCAI 2005–06, to update current dietary information. The paper by Leclercq et al.3 présents the main results of this survey in terms of food categories. The survey, cross-sectional, had been conducted on a random sample of the Italian population, stratified into four main geographical areas of Italy (North-West, North-East, Centre, South & Islands) from October 2005 to December 2006. Food consumption had been self-recorded by subjects for three consecutive days on hard-copy diaries and structured by meal. In total, 1,329 households had been involved in the food Survey corresponding to 3,323 individuals (1,501 males and 1,822 females), aged 0.1 to 97.7 years.

The authors compared some of the results with the population goals for the prevention of chronic diseases which are expressed in terms of food.

The gap with real consumption in Italy

The mean individual consumption of F&V in the whole study sample was 208g/d and 210g/d, respectively, meeting the minimum population goal of 400g of F&V daily established by FAO/WHO4. The mean daily consumption of F&V met such goal only in adults (18 to 64.9 years) and in the elderly (65 years and above), not in the younger age classes. The individual daily consumption of F&V in adolescents was only 140 g/d and 190 g/d respectively, i.e. less than one portion of F&V per day. A goal was recently set for the population for the average consumption of red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat from domesticated animals, including that contained in processed foods): it should be less than 300g/week as cooked meat (approximately 400–450g as raw weight) for the prevention of colorectal cancer5. Overall consumption of red meat in the study sample was obtained by adding up fresh beef and veal (42.7g/d), fresh pork (12.7g/d), other red meats such as lamb and horse (about 5g/d) and preserved pork and beef (28g/d, corresponding to approximately 40g of raw weight). The estimated consumption of red meat as raw weight was therefore approximately 700 g/week in the study sample, i.e. significantly higher than the goal, with a higher daily consumption in the adolescents and adults males (137g/d and 122g/d respectively) than in elderly males (106g/d). On the other hand, the consumption of légumes was very low (approximately 10g/d in the whole study sample).

The need of strategies targeting adolescents

Other main results of the Italian National Food Consumption Survey INRAN-SCAI 2005–06 confirmed some aspects of the Italian food consumption pattern: a very large contribution from olive oïl to fats, a large contribution from wine to alcoholic beverages and a large contribution from bread, pasta and pizza to cereals. Italian food consumption pattern is still Mediterranean, mainly due to the elderly food habits which still consume an adequate amount of F&V and a minor amount of meat. On the other hand, the results suggest that strategies to increase F&V consumption should target mainly adolescents, males and females. A decrease in red meat consumption would also have a very positive impact in terms of reduction of greenhouse gases and of water use6. Meat as a source of proteins could be substituted by the combination of cereals and legumes which is frequent in traditional Italian dishes such as pasta with chick peas, rice with lentils, etc. Recommendations given to the population for healthy eating should promote food consumption patterns that are healthy not only for the individuals but also for the environment.

  1. Istituto di Servizi per il Mercato Agricolo Alimentare (2007) Consumi Extra Domestici dei prodotti alimentari: Indagine qualitativa II semestre 2006. Rome: ISMEA; available at http://www.ismea.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/2064
  2. Branca F, Nikogosian H & Lobstein T (editors) (2007) The Challenge of Obesity in the WHO European Region and Strategies for Response. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; available at http://www.euro.who.int/document/E90711.pdf.
  3. Catherine Leclercq, Davide Arcella, Raffaela Piccinelli, Stefania Sette, Cinzia Le Donne and Aida Turrini on behalf of the INRAN-SCAI 2005–06 Study Group (2009) The Italian National Food Consumption Survey INRAN-SCAI 2005–06: main results in terms of food consumption. Public Health Nutr, 12(12):2504-32.
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (2002) Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series no. 916. Geneva: WHO
  5. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (2007) Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR.
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006) Livestock long shadow. Environmental issues and options. Rome: FAO. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e00.pdf (accessed December 2009).
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