The region prized for its healthy eating now has some of the most overweight kids in Europe

For many kids, the real Mediterranean diet.
For many kids, the real Mediterranean diet.
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard
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The Mediterranean diet has long been pointed to by researchers as one of the most healthy ways to eat. The diet is known for its emphasis on vegetables and legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and fish with minimal red meat. And yet, children who live in southern Europe appear to benefit from it the least.

Data from the World Health Organization indicates that several southern European countries showed some of the highest rates of childhood obesity of the 38 European countries studied (pdf). In Greece, Italy, and Spain, 42% of boys are either overweight or obese. For girls, the rates were 38% in Greece and Italy, and 41% in Spain.

Several large European nations were excluded from the survey, including Germany and the UK. The countries that had the lowest rates of childhood obesity of the ones studied—Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan—are going through what’s called a “nutritional transition,” or a shift in eating habits that coincides with economic development. Aside from those, the lowest rates of childhood obesity were found in countries like France, Norway, and Denmark.

At a conference in Vienna, João Breda, head of the WHO’s European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, was quoted as saying:

The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone. There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it.

The study looked at what’s replacing the healthy foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. These included pizza, French fries, fried potatoes, hamburgers, sausages, and meat pie.

Update: The original text of this article has been changed to more clearly highlight the scope of the study.