Only the most advantaged people actually benefit from the Mediterranean diet, Italian study says
Date: August 1, 2017
Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed I.R.C.C.S.Summary:The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease but only if you are rich or highly educated. This is the surprising finding by researchers who performed a study on over 18,000 subjects.
A Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduction in cardiovascular risk. However, the health benefits are observed only in people with higher educational level and/or greater household income. No actual benefits were observed for the less advantaged groups.
Credit: © golubovy / Fotolia
The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease but only if you are rich or highly educated. This is the surprising finding by researchers from the Italian I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed, who performed a study on over 18,000 subjects recruited within the Moli-sani study and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Cardiovascular advantages associated with the Mediterranean diet are well-known but now the Italian study, conducted by a team of researchers at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention led by Giovanni de Gaetano, reveals that such benefits are strongly influenced by the socioeconomic position of people. Basically, given a comparable adherence to this eating pattern, the study has shown that the reduction in cardiovascular risk is observed only in people with higher educational level and/or greater household income. No actual benefits were observed for the less advantaged groups.
"The cardiovascular benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet in a general population are well known -- says Marialaura Bonaccio, researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention and first author of the study -- Yet for the first time our study has revealed that the socioeconomic position is able to modulate the health advantages linked to Mediterranean diet. In other words, a person from low socioeconomic status who struggles to follow a Mediterranean model, is unlikely to get the same advantages of a person with higher income, despite the fact that they both similarly adhere to the same healthy diet."
Neuromed researchers went further and tried to unravel the possible mechanisms underlying such disparities.
"Given a comparable adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the most advantaged groups were more likely to report a larger number of indices of high quality diet as opposed to people with low socioeconomic status -- explains Licia Iacoviello, head of the Laboratory of nutritional and molecular Epidemiology at the Department -- For example, within those reporting an optimal adherence to the Mediterranean diet (as measured by a score comprising fruits and nuts, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fats, meat, dairy products and alcohol intake) people with high income or higher educational level consumed products richer in antioxidants and polyphenols, and had a greater diversity in fruit and vegetables choice. We have also found a socioeconomic gradient in the consumption of whole-grain products and in the preferred cooking methods. These substantial differences in consuming products belonging to Mediterranean diet lead us to think that quality of foods may be as important for health as quantity and frequency of intake."
"Our results should promote a serious consideration of socioeconomic scenario of health -- comments Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Department -- Socioeconomic disparities in health are growing also in access to healthy diets. During the very last years, we documented a rapid shifting from the Mediterranean diet in the whole population, but it might also be that the weakest citizens tend to buy 'Mediterranean' food with lower nutritional value. We cannot be keeping on say that the Mediterranean diet is good for health -- de Gaetano concludes -- if we are not able to guarantee an equal access to it."
The Moli-sani Project
Started in March 2005, it involves about 25,000 citizens living in the Molise region. The aim is to learn about environmental and genetic factors underlying cardiovascular disease, cancer and degenerative pathologies. Moli-sani study, now based in I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed, has transformed an entire Italian region in a large research lab.
Materials provided by Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed I.R.C.C.S.. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Marialaura Bonaccio, Augusto Di Castelnuovo, George Pounis, Simona Costanzo, Mariarosaria Persichillo, Chiara Cerletti, Maria Benedetta Donati, Giovanni de Gaetano, Licia Iacoviello on behalf of the Moli-sani Study Investigators. High adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with cardiovascular protection in higher but not in lower socioeconomic groups: prospective findings from the Moli-sani study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2017 DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyx145
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Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed I.R.C.C.S.. "Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are confirmed, but just for the upper class: Only the most advantaged people actually benefit from the Mediterranean diet, Italian study says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170801171047.htm>.