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Stanford Medicine

Global Health, Health Disparities, Nutrition, Obesity

The Mediterranean diet has gone the way of the American one, with similar results

I embarked on a recent trip to the South of France bursting with excitement and expectations. I was particularly eager to witness Provence’s celebrated market culture, in which (I imagined) farmers peddled fresh fruits and vegetables daily to spunky old women who goodnaturedly haggled, gesticulating wildly while brandishing a fish or a turnip. What I actually encountered, however, evoked a posh San Francisco farmers’ market rather than a scene out of a Jacques Tati film. Olive oil came in designer packaging and was seriously pricey; a single apple cost far more than an entire baguette, making white bread a more appealing snack option than fresh fruit.

The famously healthy Mediterranean diet whose tomatoes, olive oil, oranges, and white fish once dominated Southern European culture is surprisingly expensive to maintain, even in the countries in which it originated. As this NPR story explains, that wasn’t always the case. Fish and vegetables were once peasant fare in Mediterranean countries like Italy, the only food options available to those who couldn’t afford the red meat they probably craved. The increased wealth of the Southern European population coupled with the increased affordability of meat and fatty foods in the form of fast food mean that Mediterranean people have begun to shrug off their heart-healthy peasant’s diet in favor of one more closely resembling the average American’s. According to the NPR piece, Italy in particular is suffering from this shift: 36 percentĀ of Italians aged 12- to 16 years old are overweight or obese.

In Europe, as in America, access to healthy food is increasingly a luxury reserved for the well-off.

Previously: Cost-effective strategies for reducing global obesity rates
Photo by Bert23

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