Months ago, a reader asked me which diet was “the best,” and my answer was, quite honestly, any diet that relies predominately on unprocessed food and minimally refined grains. That’s going to be any diet native to a culture that hasn’t been reached by the hand of the processed food industry, particularly because processed food is adulterated in a way intended to encourage over-consumption, stripping foods of protein, fiber, and dietary fat.
And, although this could be any diet across Eastern or Southern Asia, Eastern Europe, South America or the entirety of Africa… the only real example of this [for numerous reasons] in mainstream media is The Mediterranean Diet.
Citizens of the Mediterranean region—think Greece, Spain, Italy—all enjoy meals that share a few common characteristics: heavily dominated by produce and dietary fats like olive oil, with verrrrrry low amounts of sugar.
Apparently, this diet isn’t really accessible to the children of the Mediterranean anymore… can you guess why? Even more, can you guess what happens next?
New data from the organization shows that children in southern Europe have obesity rates higher than 40 percent. In a presentation Thursday to health officials at the European Congress on Obesity, João Breda, the program manager for nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, blamed the incursion of sodas and snacks into the region’s traditionally low-sugar, produce-heavy diet.
“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” Breda told the assembled officials. “There is no Mediterranean diet anymore. … The Mediterranean diet is gone, and we need to recover it.” [source]
This data comes from a decade-old research project called Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI), which collects information regarding height, weight, and eating habits of children in Europe. Because the data is wide-reaching, it’s a good way to pinpoint trends in children’s health, and helps predict future spikes.
What did they find?
This latest COSI analysis found that fewer than 1 in 3 Spanish children eat fruit every day, and fewer than 1 in 10 have a daily vegetable. In Italy, nearly three-quarters of kids eat fruit daily, but just over half eat vegetables.
That mirrors surveys of adults in Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, which have found that younger generations tend to eat more meat and dairy and less fresh produce than older people. In one Italian study, two-thirds of respondents ages 15 to 24 said they didn’t eat a Mediterranean-like diet — compared with 47 percent of adults ages 55 to 64. [source]
The article, which is worth a read, references increasingly demanding schedules that call for people to look for quicker ways to get the meals they need, hence being drawn to the convenience of pre-packaged food. That ties to a running thought I’ve had, that we’ve allowed our lives in America to be engineered in such a way that so much of our time must be devoted to work, that it’s almost expected that we’re going to use one of the most-convenient options for feeding our families, even though they’re overwhelmingly unhealthy. It’s to the point where processed food—sold either in a grocery store or a fast food restaurant—is so common that it’s weird if you don’t indulge.
But we now have several examples of what happens when you make it a regular part of your life. Remember the story about how KFC affected Ghana? Or how Nestle is changing Brazil? What about Mexico? Perhaps even in your own community?
For those children whose weight gain is tied to over-consumption to over-sweetened processed food, I fear their potential for heart disease and diabetes, two conditions closely linked to overeating. That’s another pattern we can unfortunately look forward to seeing in these babies.
There are lessons for us to learn in all this, as observers:
For one, it is easy for someone with the healthiest diet in the world to be drawn to the allure of hyper-processed food—if not because of the taste, then because of the price or convenience. You have to set the boundaries for yourself personally that draws a line between what you will and will not do for ‘taste’ or ‘convenience.’ You have to tell yourself that convenience isn’t worth the damage it can do down the line to your health, because it snowballs in ways we can’t always see in the beginning. If you need convenience, there are ways to inexpensively get the job done.
Secondly, we are seeing increasing numbers of stories that cover the consequences of the spread of processed food. Some of these countries have extremely high poverty rates—that story I linked regarding Brazil is insane—and still experience high levels of obesity, something originally considered a disease of “wealth.” The stuff simply cannot be trusted.
It’s time to let go of the processed food, y’all. There are more problems than we can imagine.