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Italy’s Twins City

Barbania, a tiny town in the northwest of Italy, might just have the highest rate of twin births anywhere in the country. An astounding 74 of its 1,600 inhabitants are twins.

The town is nestled in the countryside of Piedmont, north of Turin. Although it has received no official title, its extraordinary numbers could easy qualify Barbania as Italy’s ‘Twins City.’ According to family trees, this phenomenon has been occurring for generations, although it is difficult to pin down the actual statistics. In Barbania, the current population includes pairs ranging from four to 80 year-olds.

Over all, the rate of twin births has been on the rise. In 1980, only two percent of the population were twins. The number worldwide has now climbed to 3.2%. In Barbania, the percentage is 4.6%.  “I don’t know if we’re the town with the most twins in Italy, but certainly the figures are remarkable,” Mayor Giovanni Drovetti recently remarked at a ‘Twins Party’ held by the town. “It’s always been like this. I remember when I was little, there were several twins in my class,” he continued.

Researchers believe the two driving factors are fertility treatments, which increase the chances of multiple births and women having children later in life. Studies have shown that the numbers of non-identical twin pregnancies increase substantially with the mother’s age reaches a peak when she’s in her late 30s. There is also a genetic element to twins, as indicated by the fact that they have been common in Barbania for generations. The hereditary component is passed down through the female line, experts say.

While no one has yet studied Barbania’s twins, Italy is utilizing its total twin population to research everything from anxiety to cancer to heart disease. The Ministry of Health identified hundreds of thousands of pairs and invited them to join the Italian Twin Register, a vast database that provides medical researchers with invaluable opportunities to investigate the roles of genetic and environmental factors in health conditions.