A large scale European study involving 8 European countries presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO)in Sofia, Bulgaria, revealed that children who consume a Mediterranean diet are 15% less likely to be overweight or obese than those children who do not.
The countries involved in the study were Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Estonia and Hungary. The researchers analyzed data from the IDEFICS study (Identification and Prevention of Dietary and lifestyle induced health effects in Children and infants) and measured the height, weight, waist circumference and percentage of body fat mass.
Parents took place in the study as well through a questionnaire which asked about the consumption of 43 foods and analyzed the adherence to a Mediterranean like diet assessed by a score calculated by giving one point for high intakes of each food group which was considered typical of the Mediterranean diet (vegetables, fruit and nuts, fish and cereal grains), as well as one point for low intakes of foods untypical of the Mediterranean diet (such as dairy and meat products).
The findings of the study revealed that children with high adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 15% less likely to be obese and were less likely to go through major increases in BMI, waist circumference and body fat.
The effect of the diet was found to be independent of geographic region with Swedish children scoring the highest, followed by adherence to the Italians and Cyprus.
“The promotion of a Mediterranean dietary pattern is no longer a feature of Mediterranean countries. Considering its potential beneficial effects on obesity prevention, this dietary pattern should be part of EU obesity prevention strategies and its promotion should be particularly intense in those countries where low levels of adherence are detected.” said Gianluca Tognon, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil.
Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.
Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
The diet also recognizes the importance of being physically active, and enjoying meals with family and friends.