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Children consuming a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be obese

Did you know that more children in Sweden eat a Mediterranean diet compared to children on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus? A recent study of 8 European countries presented at the (2014) European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Sofia, Bulgaria, shows that children consuming a diet more in line with the rules of the Mediterranean one are 15% less likely to be overweight or obese than those children who do not, according to research recently presented at the ECO2014 | 21st European Congress on Obesity that ran from May 28 to May 31, 2014. Some people still think of the Mediterranean diet as eating a whole pizza topped with vegetables and seafood.

Children consuming a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be overweight.
Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

The USA used to hold the title as the world's most obese nation. But now it's a close second, with Mexico in first place, according to the NY Post article, "Mexico beats US to be world's fattest country – but we're still a close second." Yet so many foods found in Mexico are similar to the Mediterranean diet also with lots of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cactus, jicama, bean varieties, and other vegetables, at least as found in vegetarian-friendly Mexican restaurants. Could it be the overuse of tortillas, cakes, pork, lard, white flour, sugar, and candies?

Or is it the frozen desserts? A typical Mediterranean diet dessert is supposed to be fresh fruit such as pomegranates or citrus. But too often Mediterranean islands serve desserts with boiled sugar and water diluted with honey poured over cakes still made with white flour and too many fried donut-like pastries or deep-fried calimari instead of small amounts of grilled seafood and lots of vegetables with fruit for dessert, fruit with no added sugars. Then again, many countries serve a lot of bread and little filling at meals, often to save money.

People in some Mediterranean countries eat less of a native diet

Most people think that children in Cyprus, an island in the palm-tree latitudes surrounded by the Mediterranean sea would be eating lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, olives, legumes, beans, seeds, grape vine leaves wraps instead of cabbage leaves, and seafood. But it's kids in Sweden eating more of what's known as the Mediterranean diet. And it takes food promotions focused on health to popularize Mediterranean diets in Sweden.

That makes people think of Sweden importing foods that won't grow there and lots of trade in groceries and produce. What's not considered a Mediterranean diet are meals heavy on the butter, cream, and cheese (dairy products) and lots of red meat. But herring also is popular in Sweden. Then again, in some Mediterranean areas most popular are different types of ice cream varieties, and fast-food eateries have opened in most of European countries, where people are eating more dairy products. You have some Mediterranean countries where some people routinely use the less costly corn oil for cooking and export the best of their olive oil to other countries.

You may wish to check out the article, "12 Things You Shouldn't Be Cooking With Olive Oil." In the U.S., sales of olive oil surpassed corn oil in the ’90s, and they have increased in the last decade by more than 350%, according to that article.

The research on child obesity and diets is by Dr Gianluca Tognon, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues across the 8 countries: Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Estonia and Hungary.

The researchers used data from the IDEFICS study (Idefics study | Identification and prevention of Dietary and lifestyle induced health effects in children and infants), funded by the European Commission. Weight, height, waist circumference, and percent body fat mass were measured in children from these eight countries.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish

The parents of these children were interviewed by means of a questionnaire specifically designed for the IDEFICS study and enquiring about the consumption frequency of 43 foods. Additional dietary data have been complemented by a telephone interview performed on a sub-sample of parents.

The adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was assessed by a score calculating 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). High scoring children were then considered high-adherent and compared to the others.

Swedish children most Mediterranean

Interestingly, the prevalence of high adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was found to be independent of the geographical distribution, with the Swedish children scoring the highest (followed by the Italians) and the children from Cyprus scoring the lowest.

The team found that children with a high adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet were 15% less likely to be overweight or obese than low-adherent children. The findings were independent of age, sex, socioeconomic status or country of residence.

The children with high adherence at baseline were 10-15% less likely to be among those who went through major increases in BMI, waist circumference and body fat

“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.” says Gianluca Tognon, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, according to the June 10, 2014 news release, "Children consuming a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be overweight."

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