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Mediterranean diet ‘disappearing’ but France is ahead

The Mediterranean diet is being shunned by the countries it originally came from, a new report has suggested, as European young people become increasingly obese (but France is escaping the worst of it).

A new European study from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on childhood obesity has shown that one in five (18-21%) children in Mediterranean countries - especially Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Malta and Spain - is now obese.

Happily, France was shown as one of the countries with the lowest obesity rate among young people, at between 5-9% depending on age and gender.

Yet, in Cyprus, 43% of children aged nine were found to be overweight, while in Greece, Spain and Italy, the figure is around 40%.

Similarly, in the UK, figures suggest that one in three children is overweight or obese (although the UK did not provide information for this particular study).

Many of these countries are known as the home of the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is often touted as one of the healthiest ways to eat - including plentiful fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, some dairy and olive oil.

Some commentators have gone as far as to say the diet is “dead” in its own countries of origin, especially among children, who appear to have replaced its nourishing ingredients with junk food, sweets, and sugary drinks.

Coupled with lack of exercise, young people are seeing the results in soaring weights and declining health.

Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, in May this year, Dr João Breda, leader of the European WHO department for non-communicable diseases, said: “Physical inactivity is one of the biggest problems in southern European countries.

“It is crucial to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables in children, while reducing their intake of sweets and particularly sugary soft drinks.

"It also very important to increase the awareness of parents and families on the problem of child obesity, given that our data show that many parents do not recognise their children as overweight or obese.

“The Mediterranean diet has disappeared for these kids. There no longer is a Mediterranean diet. It has gone, and we must find it again.”

Improvement is possible, Dr. Breda added, citing countries such as Italy, where at least three quarters of children report eating fruits and vegetables almost everyday.

The nation found to be following the “most” Mediterranean diet was, in fact, Sweden.

Positive reports also came from Albania, Denmark, Latvia, and Ireland, while the absolute lowest obesity rates were seen in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

This could be, the report suggested, because three latter nations are still considered to be in “nutritional transition”. Inhabitants are only now beginning to consume more “Westernised” products, and may be in line to see more problems with obesity in future.

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