Countries in the Mediterranean region—thought to have one of the healthiest diets in the world—now have the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe, according to data presented last week.
“There is no Mediterranean diet anymore,” João Breda, the World Health Organization’s program manager for nutrition, told health officials at the European Congress on Obesity. “The Mediterranean diet is gone, and we need to recover it.”
The observations came from the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, a 10-year study analyzing height, weight and eating habits of children in more than 30 countries. Six Mediterranean countries ranked among the top 10 in overweight/obesity rates among children ages 5 to 9, with Italy (42 percent), Greece (41 percent) and Malta (39.9 percent) topping the list. More than 36 percent of children in Spain and Cyprus were also found to be overweight.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is heavy on produce, nuts, fish and olive oil, and low on red meat, sugar and saturated fat. It was rated the second-best diet for heart health in 2018 by the U.S. News and World Report.
But younger generations of southern Europeans have increasingly taken a liking to processed foods, soda and sweets while pushing away fruit and vegetables, according to the data.
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