How can we stop the spread of obesity
Over time, a large part of the population has adopted unhealthy eating habits, which now comprise extremely worrying statistics and it is more than clear that current trends need to be reversed towards healthier lifestyles. A diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet (MD) is associated with many benefits and has been shown to have a preventive effect against many diseases, including obesity. Unfortunately, the use of such a food model in many regions is replaced by different nutritional patterns that are often generated by cultural and social changes.
We need to identify methods that can inform and convince consumers to adopt the principles of MD for addressing and solving obesity as early as childhood.
MD is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, whole grains and olive oil, as well as a moderate consumption of fish and poultry and a low intake of sweets, red meat and dairy products. Being low in saturated fat and rich in monounsaturated fats, it provides a large amount of fiber, glutathione and antioxidants and is characterized by a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids. Due to all these health benefits, MD has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality and coronary heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in adults. For pregnancy, an adoption of MD was associated with a lower risk of birth defects, premature birth and a lower risk of growth retardation.
Despite the almost indisputable scientific evidence, it seems that the population still needs to be convinced to adopt this food model. Undoubtedly, DM has become an increasingly popular topic of interest worldwide, but there are still many myths and misconceptions associated with this nutritional model.
Except for rare genetic conditions such as the Prader-Willi syndrome and endocrine disorders such as thyroid dysfunction, obesity is caused by an imbalance between caloric intake and burned calories, which leads to excess body fat. A sedentary lifestyle, poor eating habits, genetic predisposition – all of these contribute to this phenomenon. It has become clear that the rapid rise in global BMI cannot be fully explained by genetics: environmental factors play an important role in childhood obesity, which is why family and school environments are so relevant to this topic. Among the most common unhealthy food choices seen in schoolchildren and teenagers we can find skipping breakfast, eating at fast food restaurants and eating a lot of sweets and junk food. All these patterns of behaviour increase the risk of childhood obesity and comorbidities. Insufficient levels of MD adoption are a major factor in the spread of the obesity epidemic in Southern Europe, where a Western-style diet, rich in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates is spreading fast.
A vector for changing current statistics for the better can be the responsibility of public health policies in planning actions to combat obesity, from the perspective of economic sustainability of healthcare, by realizing that the Mediterranean-style diet is not a specific diet, but rather a collection of eating habits. Practice has shown that imposing regulations, regardless of the epidemiological knowledge of the onset of the disease, has very limited effects. Obesity occurs and develops systematically here and there, especially in urban and suburban areas with low incomes, so the costs of a healthy diet that promotes the use of fish, vegetables and grains, instead of processed foods often less expensive and ready-to-eat meals play a significant role in citizens’ less healthy food choices.
In this context, providing information, communicating and informing citizens, accessing good choices by educating the population, directing them to the right choice by changing the default option to a healthy choice, using incentives and concrete tools to guide people to make such choices – all these are actions with an impact in reducing the current worrying statistics.