Even Mediterraneans can’t afford the Mediterranean diet

Monday, 17 December, 2012


The Mediterranean diet has long been lauded as the cure to a number of first-world health issues and key to general good health. But mounting economic pressures in Europe are making the Mediterranean diet unaffordable even for those living in the Mediterranean region.

A team of scientists from the Research Laboratories at the Fondazione di ricerca e cura Giovanni Paolo II - Catholic University of Campobasso have found that the poorest people in the Mediterranean region simply can’t afford to stick to the Mediterranean diet.

“Our hypothesis comes from a pretty simple observation,” said Marialaura Bonaccio, first author of the study, which was published on BMJ Open. “We sought to see whether the increasing cost of the main food products and the progressive impoverishment of people could contribute to the obesity pandemic which has been affecting the countries of the Mediterranean area during the recent years, including Italy.”

The researchers analysed information on more than 13,000 people, a subsample from the Moli-sani Project, which has recruited 25,000 adults from the Molise region. The project aims to investigate the relationship between genetic and environmental factors in the onset of chronic disease. The research team explored the association between income and dietary habits of participants, according to specific scores of adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

“We found that low-income people showed the poorest adherence to the Mediterranean diet as compared to those in the uppermost group of income,” said Licia Iacoviello, chairperson of the Moli-sani Project.

“In particular, high-income people have 72% odds of being in the top category of adherence to Mediterranean diet. This means a less healthy diet for the poorest, who are more likely to get pre-packaged or junk food, often cheaper than the fresh foods of the Mediterranean tradition. In the lowest-income category we have recorded a higher prevalence of obesity as well. Low-income people report 36% of obesity compared to 20% in the uppermost income class.”

“Obviously we have considered all the possible confounding factors which may bias the observed effects,” the authors said. “The educational level, for instance, has a huge role in determining health status, as showed by previous studies. That is why we have further divided our population according to educational level but in this case, too, income appears to influence people’s food choices.”

“An interesting aspect of our study is that the income categories considered were not so different from each another,” said Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Research Laboratories at the centre of Campobasso. “We are talking about relatively small economic differences, from €10,000 to over €40,000 net per year. Yet, also in a quite homogenous region as Molise we could observe substantial differences in dietary habits and consequent health outcomes.

“This is a very serious issue which shall foster a discussion on healthy food accessibility in terms of economic costs within those appointed to guarantee the rights to health to everybody, independently from socioeconomic status. To keep on gaining proofs of the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet is no longer the only task. We have to be sure that everyone has the chance to take advantage from it.”

Read the full journal article here.

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