Round Tables. A discussion with NHS stakeholders.

Padua / Trieste, 2017
2017 Report "Health changes in Italy: the effects on childhood and adolescence"

The main objective of the welfare system created in the United Kingdom after the Second World War was the basic social protection of citizens throughout their life cycle (from "the cradle to the grave") (Beveridge Report, 1942). In today’s rapidly changing world, an individual no longer conforms to a linear sequence of life stages that relate only to age (birth, education, marriage, work, ageing). On the contrary, individuals are increasingly following cycles that are often influenced by economic, social and spatial changes, which in turn lead to career and responsibility changes, thus requiring a total reprogramming of life and expectations.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is one of the most dynamic stages of human development. It is a period of substantial physical, emotional and intellectual changes, as well as changes in social roles, relationships and expectations. Changes in the socio-economic framework in this period of life can have important implications on future life and the opportunities that one’s given or denied. The physical and mental health of adolescents is therefore of fundamental importance for the future of countries.

However, adolescence is generally considered a life stage of good health with low incidence of disease and, for this reason, it is sometimes overlooked by policy makers who dedicate more attention to other populations. However, even if the risk factors and lifestyles that young people may adopt do not affect their health during this period, they can have a substantial effect later in life. In fact, if the behaviours adopted during this transitional period continue into adulthood, they could involve the use of alcohol and tobacco and reflect on levels of physical activity and diet and mental and physical health. On the contrary, adopting life models with intense physical activity as young people, to then be maintained in the years to come, is thought to have protective effects against the onset of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.

Controlling and managing these factors is important from a dual point of view. On the one hand because it allows for the reduction of costs of assuming responsibility of current and future generations for chronic illness in adulthood and in old age if today's teenagers become parents who teach their young about healthy lifestyles. On the other hand, because it aids in the country's competitiveness within the global economy, as research aimed at understanding these phenomena, and the pathologies related to this age group, can orient investments with a high rate of economic and social return, given that the benefits are manifested over a long period of time.

The organisation and management of these phenomena, and their monitoring, will be one of the challenges of social and healthcare policies in Italy. The analyses carried out will seek to understand if and to what extent the system is able to (and can successfully) fully and appropriately take care of the healthcare needs expressed by this generation of children and adolescents. All this can also be achieved through the ability to guide the choices and behaviours of children and parents, focusing on the areas which that cannot merely be left to the subjectivity and spontaneous action of children and families, but refer to the collective assumption of responsibility. From vaccinations to proper nutrition, from healthy lifestyles to other forms of functional behaviour, to the proper development of the new generations, it is important to understand how collective responsibility can be expressed.

This information is of fundamental importance to policy makers, since in the future the younger generations risk having a worse health condition than that of the the current silver generation.

The meeting closed with a Round Table on the theme, "Health in the life cycle of the population: ongoing dynamics and future prospects", attended by experts of the sector and operators with the aim of taking stock of the situation and discussing the possible solutions to be applied in Italy.