Obesity rising in Southern Europe

July 29, 2008 12:28:47 PM PDT
Obesity is on the rise across southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as people on the shores of the Mediterranean abandon the lean diet of their ancestors and opt for fatter and faster foods, a U.N. agency said Tuesday. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said that in the 40 years to 2002 daily calorie intake in countries including Greece, Italy and Spain has increased by 30 percent, more than the 20 percent recorded in northern EU countries.

This has made Greece the EU country with the highest prevalence of overweight and obese people: 75 percent. More than half of the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese populations are overweight too, according to a paper presented at a recent workshop by U.S. and EU academic institutions.

The report says the typical Mediterranean diet based on olive oil, fish and vegetables also is declining in the Middle East and North Africa, where eating habits are changing and calorie intake increasing.

Mediterranean people have used higher incomes to add a large number of calories from meat and fats to a diet that was traditionally light on animal proteins, said FAO senior economist Josef Schmidhuber, who authored the paper.

What they now eat is "too fat, too salty and too sweet," he said.

The country that registered the most dramatic increase was Spain, where fat made up just 25 percent of the diet 40 years ago but now accounts for 40 percent.

The report also attributed the change in eating habits to other factors, including the rise of supermarkets and fast food restaurants at a time when a more sedentary lifestyle means fewer calories are burned.