Mediterraneans Fatter After Abandoning the Traditional Mediterranean Diet

In 2008, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reported rates of overweight and obesity in various countries in the European Union.

Greece won honors as the fattest EU country – 75% of adult Greeks are overweight or obese. Way to go, Greece!  Over the 40 years preceeding 2002, the Greeks increased their average caloric intake by 30%, compared to a 20% increase in the rest of the EU.  And I’d bet they’re expending fewer calories in physical activity than did the Greeks of 40 years ago.

Although outdone by the Greeks, over half of the adult populations in Italy, Spain, and Portugal are overweight, too.

The authors of the UN report suggest reasons for Greece’s decisive capture of first place:

  • more sedentary lifestyles
  • less home cooking
  • supermarkets and fast-food restaurants offering convenient, processed foods high in sugar, animal fat, and salt.  [Salt should have nothing to do with weight gain.]
  • less fruit and vegetable consumption

In other words, they’ve been moving away from the traditional Mediterranean diet and lifestyle of the mid-20th century.  Recent observational studies in Greece and Spain showed less obesity in current residents who had higher adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet.

How do North American adult overweight and obesity rates compare?

  • United States – 67%
  • Mexico – 63%
  • Canada – 59%

If the Mediterraneans have forgotten their dietary heritage, I can help.

Steve Parker, M.D.


Mendez, M.A., et al.  Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced 3-year incidence of obesity.  Journal of Nutrition, vol. 136 (2006): 2,934-2,938.

Panagiotakos, D.B., et al.  Association between the prevalence of obesity and adherence to the Mediterranean diet: the ATTICA study.  Nutrition, vol 22 (2006): 449-456.

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