Background: Despite convincing evidence in the Mediterranean region, the cardiovascular benefit of the Mediterranean diet is not well established in non-Mediterranean countries and the optimal criteria for defining adherence are unclear. The population attributable fraction (PAF) of adherence to this diet is also unknown.
Methods: In the UK-based EPIC-Norfolk prospective cohort, we evaluated habitual diets assessed at baseline (1993-1997) and during follow-up (1998-2000) using food-frequency questionnaires (n = 23,902). We estimated a Mediterranean diet score (MDS) using cut-points projected from the Mediterranean dietary pyramid, and also three other pre-existing MDSs. Using multivariable-adjusted Cox regression with repeated measures of MDS and covariates, we examined prospective associations between each MDS with incident cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by 2009 and mortality by 2013, and estimated PAF for each outcome attributable to low MDS.
Results: We observed 7606 incident CVD events (2818/100,000 person-years) and 1714 CVD deaths (448/100,000). The MDS based on the Mediterranean dietary pyramid was significantly associated with lower incidence of the cardiovascular outcomes, with hazard ratios (95 % confidence intervals) of 0.95 (0.92-0.97) per one standard deviation for incident CVD and 0.91 (0.87-0.96) for CVD mortality. Associations were similar for composite incident ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality. Other pre-existing MDSs showed similar, but more modest associations. PAF due to low dietary pyramid based MDS (<95th percentile) was 3.9 % (1.3-6.5 %) for total incident CVD and 12.5 % (4.5-20.6 %) for CVD mortality.
Conclusions: Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower CVD incidence and mortality in the UK. This diet has an important population health impact for the prevention of CVD.