Mediterranean Diet Protective Against Obesity in Children

File this under “no surprise:” A recent study from eight European countries has shown evidence that children who consume a Mediterranean diet may be 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese.

The results of the study conducted by Dr. Gianluca Tognon from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden were first presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia, Bulgaria last June.

Researchers examined data gathered from the IDEFICS study, a European project that lasted from September 2006 to February 2012 with the goal of assessing the problem of obesity in children.

Data from IDEFICS included height, weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference from children in Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Estonia and Sweden. In relation to the children’s diets, parents filled out a questionnaire supplied from IDEFICS that defined the frequency with which 43 common foods were consumed. Dr. Tongon’s team gathered additional dietary data by interviewing a sample of parents from the IDEFICS study.

Children were then scored on their adherence to foods considered to be staples of a Mediterranean diet, including fish, vegetables, fruits, cereal grains and nuts. A single point was given for every Mediterranean food group eaten, and another point was given if children had a low intake of foods not considered typical of the Mediterranean diet like meat and dairy.

The results of Dr. Tognon’s study showed that children with a higher number of points were 10 to 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese compared to children with a lower number of points. These children were also less likely to go through major changes on the BMI scale or gain body fat.

The study also showed that Italian children were the most likely to consume a Mediterranean diet and in Sweden, where the children had the highest frequencies of intakes of
cereal grains, fruit, nuts and vegetables.

“The take home message,” Dr. Tognon said, “is that there is a need to recommend to children a dietary pattern, particularly in the Mediterranean countries where people might still be convinced that they are following a diet like this, which is often not true anymore.”

Mediterranean diet, overweight and body composition in children from eight European countries: Cross-sectional and prospective results from the IDEFICS study

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