Goodbye Mediterranean Diet?

All eyes are on the Mediterranean diet. As everyone knows, it is supposed to be one of the best and healthiest in the world. How is it then that Spain is competing for one of the highest obesity rates in the world - with Andalucia topping Spain's list of heavyweights, particularly when it comes to kids. So this morning I read an amazing report in the Diario Sur newspaper. Now obviously if the Mediterranean Diet is so wonderful, it makes sense to create the "Fundación Dieta Mediterranea" right here in Spain to study and promote this wonderful eating plan. It appears the Foundation researchers have been very busy of late, visiting schools in Castilla-Leon, Aragon, Cataluña and of course, our very own Andalucia. The purpose of their visits was to provide special Mediterranean Diet workshops for 25,000 kids, and then take advantage of the opportunity to ask the kids about their eating habits, of course. Turns out a surprisingly high number of children had never even tried spinach, tomatoes, asparagus, oranges, carrots, onions, black olives or even tuna. That is to say - up to one out of three kids didn't even know what some of these traditional Mediterranean ingredients tasted like! However, once the children had learned to make a wonderful southern-style salad with all those same ingredients, 94% were willing to try it and - low and behold - 66% actually confessed to liking their concoction. Just goes to show, the death of a diet begins at home and if you give these little people a chance to carry on the great traditions of this place, they are very likely to do so. I remember that, in stark contrast to my experience here in Andalucia, I was assigned a public health nurse when I lived in the Spanish Basque Country in order to ensure I was properly trained to feed my new baby in accordance with the greatest of Basque culinary traditions. That very patient paediatric nurse spent much time and energy convincing me to add leeks to my tiny baby's fresh cooked purees, which were packed with nutrients from a wide variety of vegetables and a different form of protein each day. And when my child turned one year old, I'll never forget the nurse's insistance that she have finely chopped green salad for dinner every night - teeth or no teeth. I've taken three more babies through the health service here in the south of Spain and never received more than a list of typed suggestions regarding food and nutrition. Perhaps it's time for a little more help from our friends at SAS (Servicio Andaluz de Salud)? Or should the "Consejería de Educación" (Education Department) take care of this matter? We are seeing a trickle of "healthy eating" adverts compliments the Ministry of Health. I think we need a multi-faceted approach. Since I first came to Spain to study two decades ago, the content on supermarket shelves has changed dramatically and I fear the junk food consumption levels have skyrocketed in homes across our region. How can consumers keep up with all of these products? How can they possibly understand how destructive many of these pre-packaged foods are to their healthy traditions? Education is the key and it needs to come faster and in bigger doses, starting at health facilities, continuing at school and full force from the media. Otherwise, it won't be long before the Mediterranean diet is no longer around to study or promote!
Blog published on 10 January 2008