Since the 1960s, health proponents around the world — and especially in the U.S. — have touted the benefits of the natural elements in the Mediterranean diet: fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and light on red meat and dairy. In the 1990s, researchers studied its benefits and found that people who regularly ate this way were far less likely to be overweight or suffer from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Because of this — your concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 were surprised to read the latest study by the World Health Organization (WHO) that revealed childhood obesity rates are soaring in the heart of the Mediterranean: southern Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Andorra, Portugal and Spain.
The Decline of the Mediterranean Diet
Does this mean the benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been wrong all these years? Quite the contrary. It means the children in these countries are no longer consuming a traditional Mediterranean diet, but have turned to the United States as an example of how to eat.
And what we might call the “American diet” generally comprises of the exact opposite of what makes up Mediterranean fare: fatty foods, red meat, dairy, starches, sugar and processed foods. In addition, the WHO study emphasized the children’s lack of traditional exercise, which has been replaced by time in front of digital devices.
The British, who have been concerned about recent reports of childhood obesity in their nation, seemed to take a bit of delight in learning they were not alone in succumbing to the American way of eating. “Fast food has got them, too!” The Guardian commented. Perhaps even more so. Childhood obesity rates in Britain in 2016 reported as high as 33 percent of the population. The WHO study pegged these rates in Mediterranean countries at more than 40 percent.
Rising Global Obesity Rates
Head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases Dr. João Breda pronounced the Mediterranean diet dead, The Guardian announced. “Face down in a plate of spaghetti.” And lest we be tempted to join in Britain’s glee, let’s remember that most studies estimate American childhood obesity rates at 33%.
“The Mediterranean diet is based on fresh, seasonal, and local food,” Breda said in The Washington Post. “[Children today] eat much less fruit and vegetables, pulses, and fiber-rich complex carbohydrates than their parents and grandparents.” (Pulses are part of the food grain family that includes dried beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and peanuts.)
This reinforces what we’ve been telling our patients for years: It’s not necessary to buy diet books, follow fad diet or starve yourself to maintain a healthy weight. Just cut out high-fat foods, processed junk and exercise on a regular basis, and you’ll see the results.
The Benefits of a Fresh Diet
The benefits of a Mediterranean diet include reduced inflammation levels, which results in lower risks for cardiovascular disease, strokes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It also means almost automatic weight control, which reduces your risk for diabetes.
But there’s no need to change out your entire way of eating all at once. We recommend you try just a few things to improve your diet and see if you don’t start feeling better. For example, add a handful of nuts a few times a week; increase your intake of vegetables every day; switch to extra-virgin olive oil for cooking or salad dressings; add a few servings of fish in place of red meat throughout the week; or, substitute whole grain breads and grains such as oatmeal, barley, or quinoa where possible.
Any one of these steps can start you on a new path to better health. We’re happy to provide more suggestions — just contact us for these or any other questions you may have.