The research, presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO)in Sofia, Bulgaria, is by Dr Gianluca Tognon, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues across the 8 countries: Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Estonia and Hungary.
The researchers used data from the IDEFICS study (Identification and Prevention of Dietary - and lifestyle - induced health effects in Children and infantS), funded by the European Commission. Weight, height, waist circumference, and percent body fat mass were measured in children from these eight countries.
The parents of these children were interviewed by means of a questionnaire specifically designed for the IDEFICS study and enquiring about the consumption frequency of 43 foods. Additional dietary data have been complemented by a telephone interview performed on a sub-sample of parents.
The adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was assessed by a score calculating by giving one point for high intakes of each food group which was considered typical of the Mediterranean diet (vegetables, fruit and nuts, fish and cereal grains), as well as one point for low intakes of foods untypical of the Mediterranean diet (such as dairy and meat products). High scoring children were then considered high-adherent and compared to the others.
Interestingly, the prevalence of high adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was found to be independent of the geographical distribution, with the Swedish children scoring the highest (followed by the Italians) and the children from Cyprus scoring the lowest.
The team found that children with a high adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet were 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than low-adherent children. The findings were independent of age, sex, socioeconomic status or country of residence.