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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 14:15 GMT
Italy urged to battle the bulge
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Italian model
Stylish Italians are being urged to stay trim
Fresh from introducing what he described as the world's toughest smoking ban, Italy's health minister is turning his attention to obesity.

Girolamo Sirchia says he wants every Italian household to join his do-it-yourself battle of the bulge.

The idea is to send tape measures to every home so that ordinary Italians can see for themselves how they measure up. For even the tallest men it should not read more than 102cm, says Mr Sirchia.

For women, no more than 88cm.

The health ministry says 28 million Italians are overweight - and five million of them classify as officially obese.

Over the last decade alone, the number of Italians registered as seriously overweight has more than doubled.

National divide

Women and children are particularly at risk: some 36% of nine-year-olds are affected - more than in any other European country.

But Italy's weight problem also reflects the continuing split between affluent northerners - who tend to be leaner - and their poorer, fatter, compatriots in the south.

Getting on for half of all southerners are overweight and in some regions - like the area that includes Naples - it is even higher.

Doctors say the tape measure is a good idea which could help the country get to grips with its weight problem.

But for those Italians already reeling from the new law which bans smoking in all public places, the thought of carrying round a tape to check their waistline must seem positively sado-masochistic.


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