Food and children, watch out for self-weaning. And choose quality food: 'It's an investment in the future'

Self-weaning, interview with Ruggiero Francavilla, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bari (UniBa) and head of the Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition service at the Bari hospital, during the Congress of the Italian Society of Preventive and Social Paediatrics (SIPPS)

Paediatrician’s opinion on food safety and self-weaning

“Food safety is fundamental in the paediatric age, because the child is a growing organism and all its organs are in the process of formation, with a capacity to eat greater than adults, but with a reduced capacity to dispose of toxic substances, because it has not yet acquired the skills to eliminate these substances by organs such as the liver.

An adult eliminates pesticides 10-15 times faster than a school child and 50 times faster than an infant.

A diet free of toxic substances guarantees the child’s health, which the parent will see in the long term and not in the short term.

Self-weaning? Better courses on responsible and healthy eating

This was said by Ruggiero Francavilla, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bari (UniBa) and head of the paediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition service at the Bari hospital, during the Congress of the Italian Society of Preventive and Social Paediatrics (SIPPS).

The consequences of the intake of harmful substances in the life of a child can therefore occur many years later, so as to lose “the causal link between the contaminant and the subsequent manifestation in evolutionary age – Francavilla explains – so we say to the paediatrician to take care of the children’s diet and also to inform the mother, the family, because the presence of some micro-toxins contained, perhaps, in wheat must be known as soon as possible”.

Food safety and the choice of a diet based on the Italian food chain are therefore essential for the health of children.

Responsive parenting is also based on this and it is important to exploit all channels of communication with families.

The SIPPS is working, not surprisingly, to bring courses on nutrition and food safety into schools, but “we should increase the opportunities for training and discussion”, Francavilla explains, because the paediatrician has “only the opportunity to meet families during health assessments or if a health problem occurs with the child”.

There must therefore be no terrorist information, but careful information, explaining how important it is to eat better and less, given that today statistics tell us that in our country “children are encountering problems of obesity”, the professor recalls.


How to intervene on the adolescent, who goes out on his own and chooses what to eat?

“Francavilla announces: “Together with our colleague Luigi Terracciano of SIPPS, we are working on this to better root food safety awareness in schools with older students.

Activating awareness, however, is a path that starts from the earliest years of life: “It is essential to work on the first thousand days of a child’s life,” reiterates the university professor, “this means educating them to wean themselves carefully, dissuading the family from the tendencies of self-weaning, which allows the child to eat anything, because ‘adult food’ contains antibiotics, pesticides and contaminants.


Following the child at this early stage also helps educate the family to eat better and allows the child to grow up as a teenager who is more aware and careful about the food he or she eats.

There are rules to follow, a sort of decalogue, to educate oneself to greater food safety: “Eat less. It’s at the end of the decalogue, but it’s the simplest rule to start from,” explains the teacher.

“Today we consume too much, and if these foods are very contaminated, it means we’re storing toxins and contaminants.

The other rule is to choose certified organic, which does not mean zero kilometre, but a totally Italian supply chain,” Francavilla reiterates, “from production to packaging; pay attention to cured meats, which contain a lot of nitrites often disguised as ‘E450’ codes.

Furthermore: “Choose small fish because they have not accumulated contaminants in their meat, avoid salmon,” warns Francavilla, “which often fall ill and, living in tanks crowded with other salmon, are subject to pesticide treatments.

In addition, continues the specialist, ‘don’t eat anything that your grandmother doesn’t recognise as food, this is a rule of the scholar Michael Pollan that I have also made my own.

Never take products that are already grated, because anything that is ground is an afterthought.


If you like pasta, you need to know where your wheat comes from: “Many countries treat wheat with chemicals that are even banned in Europe, so it’s best to choose wheat grown below the 41st parallel.

Wheat must be grown in areas where there is no rain during the harvest period and where temperatures are high, as is the case in southern Italy or, better still, below the 41st parallel: in fact, the dry climate prevents the development of mycetes that produce mycotoxins, which then remain in the flour and, being thermostable, remain in the food we eat, even after cooking.

I would like to remind you that the Italian supply chain can be traced through labels,’ explains the UniBa professor, ‘just think of a city in China called ‘Parma’ where a product called prosciutto is produced.

Well, a label of this type is easily traceable but with a little attention it can be done on all products’.

Finally, against the myth of the wastefulness of quality food, Francavilla is very clear: “We think we spend more on quality food because we don’t think about the diseases that occur over time and that are often related to our nutrition.

We don’t think about the cost of treatment, we don’t think about the long term.

Quality, safe food from a real Italian supply chain, without contaminants, is an investment in our future, in our lives,’ he concludes.

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Agenzia Dire

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