When the Italian federation of paediatricians met in Rome recently it painted a mixed picture of the state of health of the nation's children. The incidence of asthma and food allergies in babies between 12 and 23 months old is increasing, particularly in Lazio, where as many as 15 per cent of young children are suffering from respiratory problems. Parents who smoke and the poor quality of the air are believed to be the reason for this increase in breathing difficulties but no explanation can be found for the rise in food allergies. Italian children generally have a good diet and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables but a quarter of them are overweight.

The paediatricians concluded that, although parents try hard to spend time with their offspring, children spend more and more of their time in front of the television and not nearly enough playing in the open air.