Children in Cyprus eat less Mediterranean food than children in seven other EU countries, according to a study by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
The study was conducted in eight European countries including Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Estonia and Hungary and was presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Researchers looked at children aged two to nine and found that those who were on a Mediterranean diet were 15% less likely to be overweight or obese than those who weren’t.
The link held regardless of where the kids lived, their age, sex and socioeconomic status.
The study found that the children who were most likely to follow the diet closely with a high intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish and cereal grains were those in Sweden, followed by the Italians, while the least likely were children in Cyprus.
“The fact that the Swedish children scored the highest, while the children from Cyprus turned out to have the lowest adherence to a Mediterranean diet was actually a bit surprising,” said Gianluca Tognon, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
“The promotion of a Mediterranean dietary pattern is no longer a feature of Mediterranean countries,” added Tognon.
Tognon also said that 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.
Researchers used data from the IDEFICS study (Identification and Prevention of Dietary – and lifestyle – induced health effects in Children and infants), funded by the European Commission which was conducted between September 2006 and February 2012.
The study aimed to assess the problem of obesity in European children.
The children’s parents answered a questionnaire on the consumption frequency of 43 foods.
The adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was 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 non-typical of the Mediterranean diet (such as dairy and meat products).