The Mediterranean diet is gone, says WHO chief

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/MarianVejcik
© GettyImages/MarianVejcik
With Greece, Italy, Spain and Cyprus showing the highest levels of childhood obesity in Europe, the Mediterranean diet is gone, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) chief João Breda. “Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids."

It is frequently cited as one of the healthiest diets in the world thanks to a high proportion of fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and olive oil, and in 2013 it was added to UNESCO’s list of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.

But, speaking at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna this week, the Head WHO's European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) João Breda declared it to be dead. 

The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone," ​he said. “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.”

Breda presented highlights of preliminary data ​from the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (or COSI), which show that children in Cyprus are the most overweight in Europe, with 43% of boys and girls overweight. Of these, 21% of boys and 19% of girls are obese.

This is closely followed by Greece, Italy and Spain where 42% of boys are overweight, and between 19 and 21% of these are considered obese. For girls, levels are slightly lower. Forty-one percent of Spanish girls and overweight (17% are obese) and 38% of girls in Greece and Italy are overweight, with 14% obese in both countries.

Northern European countries show lower levels of obesity with Denmark, Norway and Ireland at 5% but between around one fifth and a quarter of children are still considered to be overweight there (18%, 24% and 27% respectively.)

Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan show the lowest levels with 2, 4 and 5% of boys obese but WHO warned that these countries are experiencing a nutrition transition, with children eating more Western-style processed foods high in salt, fat and sugar.


Nonetheless, the preliminary data show that levels in some of these countries are falling.

There was a “significant decrease​” in the prevalence of both overweight and obesity recorded in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia as well as “a decreasing tendency​” in Ireland and Spain.

Overweight and obesity are frequently measured using the body mass index (BMI), calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of his/her height in meters (kg/m2).

For children aged between 5–19 years, the WHO classifies overweight as a BMI-for-age greater than one standard deviation above the WHO Growth Reference median. Obesity is greater than two standard deviations above the WHO Growth Reference median.

COSI has collected and standardised weight and height measurements from over 300,000 children aged between six and nine years old in 53 countries every three years since 2010, building up a picture of the prevalence of overweight and obesity. 

The WHO puts the Europe’s obesogenic environment down to the greater availability and affordability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and drinks and lack of exercise.

In 2012, a study conducted by researchers from Italy’s Catholic University of Campobosso and published in the British Medical Journal​ ​found that of the 13,000 people living in Italy’s Molise region, those on the lowest incomes were least likely to adhere to a traditional Mediterranean diet.

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Discover Noochy Crisp® for health bars

Discover Noochy Crisp® for health bars

Content provided by Gnosis by Lesaffre USA | 23-May-2023 | Product Brochure

In the comfort food market, bars have a major place. Consumers are looking for healthier snacks and are more conscious of functional ingredients in their...

Make your meat go further

Make your meat go further

Content provided by ADM | 19-May-2023 | Infographic

Consumers increasingly choose plant-based sources of protein, but still crave the satisfying taste of meat.

Immune support for everyone

Immune support for everyone

Content provided by Kerry | 16-May-2023 | Infographic

Consumers of all ages cite immune health as a top benefit driving their purchases, along with improving gut/digestive health.

Sustainable Farming in Challenging Times

Sustainable Farming in Challenging Times

Content provided by Südzucker AG | 16-May-2023 | White Paper

Today, farmers are facing many different challenges: Reduction of plant protection options, changing climate conditions and increased production cost,...

Related suppliers

1 comment


Posted by Matt,

No UK, Belgium or German data?

Report abuse

Follow us


View more