Background & aims: A Mediterranean-like dietary pattern has been shown to be inversely associated with many diseases, but its role in early obesity prevention is not clear. We aimed to determine if this pattern is common among European children and whether it is associated with overweight and obesity.
Methods and results: The IDEFICS study recruited 16,220 children aged 2-9 years from study centers in eight European countries. Weight, height, waist circumference, and skinfolds were measured at baseline and in 9114 children of the original cohort after two years. Diet was evaluated by a parental questionnaire reporting children's usual consumption of 43 food items. Adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet was calculated by a food frequency-based Mediterranean Diet Score (fMDS). The highest fMDS levels were observed in Sweden, the lowest in Cyprus. High scores were inversely associated with overweight including obesity (OR = 0.85, 95% CI: 0.77; 0.94) and percent fat mass (β = -0.22, 95% CI: -0.43; -0.01) independently of age, sex, socioeconomic status, study center and physical activity. High fMDS at baseline protected against increases in BMI (OR = 0.87, 95% CI: 0.78; 0.98), waist circumference (OR = 0.87, 95% CI: 0.77; 0.98) and waist-to-height ratio (OR = 0.88, 95% CI: 0.78; 0.99) with a similar trend observed for percent fat mass (p = 0.06).
Conclusions: Although a Mediterranean dietary pattern is inversely associated with childhood obesity, it is not common in children living in the Mediterranean region and should therefore be advocated as part of EU obesity prevention strategies.
Keywords: BMI change; Change in adiposity; Childhood obesity; Fat mass; Mediterranean diet score.
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