A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed yesterday that healthy eating habits have declined dramatically across the Mediterranean over the past 40 years, with today’s diet containing greater levels of fat, salt and sugar.
The news comes while a push is being made for official recognition of the diet, hailed by many to bring good health and longevity. On July 26, Italy joined Greece, Morocco and Spain in a bid to include the Mediterranean diet on the Unesco list of world cultural treasures – following France’s recent proposal – with unanimous support from the Italian Senate in a motion to safeguard these eating habits and recognize their value.
The report’s author, FAO Senior Economist Josef Schmidhuber, demonstrates how increased incomes across Mediterranean communities have resulted in an increasing calorie intake, due to greater consumption of meat and fats in a diet which traditionally contained much less animal protein and was rich in fruit, olive oil and vegetables.
In the 40 years to 2002, the daily intake in Europe (15-nations) rose by around 20 percent, from 2960 kcal to 3340 kcal. However in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain – countries that were traditionally less economically active than those in the north – the calorie intake has increased by 30 percent.
Commenting on the present diet in Greece, Schmidhuber said ‘Higher calorie intake and lower calorie expenditure have made Greece today the EU member country with the highest average Body Mass Index and the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity. Today, three quarters of the Greek population are overweight or obese’.
In addition, the report claims that over half the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese populations are overweight and that there has also been a considerable increase in the overall calories and glycemic load of the diets in north-eastern Africa.
Aside from greater incomes, this change in diet has been attributed to: the rise of supermarkets; changes in food distribution systems; women in paid-employment spending less time cooking at home; families who dine out more, often in fast-food restaurants; and people exercising less.
Italy, Greece, Morocco and Spain are due to present their bid to Unesco on August 14 this year, and a decision will be made before winter 2009. To read more on the French Unesco bid, click here.