High adherence to Mediterranean diet, but not individual foods or nutrients, is associated with lower likelihood of being obese in a Mediterranean cohort

Eat Weight Disord. 2018 Oct;23(5):605-614. doi: 10.1007/s40519-017-0454-1. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


Purpose: The aim of the present study was to evaluate the association between the Mediterranean diet and obesity in a Mediterranean cohort.

Methods: The study population of MEAL (Mediterranean Healthy Eating, Ageing, and Lifestyle) study comprised 1814 men and women (18 + years) recruited in the city of Catania, southern Italy. Food intake was evaluated through a validated food frequency questionnaire and the Mediterranean diet adherence was assessed through the MEDI-LITE score.

Results: Individuals highly adherent to the Mediterranean diet (highest quartile of the score) were less likely to be obese (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.32, 0.89) despite there was no significant associations when considering men and women separately. The dietary profile of obese and non-obese individuals did not significantly differ, except for vitamin E, processed meat, and alcohol more consumed among non-obese ones. Among the food groups characterizing this dietary pattern, only satisfaction of the criterion for dairy products (< 1 serving/day) was significantly associated with lower odds of being obese. Among other covariates, current smoking was associated with obesity, while high physical activity and regular alcohol drinking were inversely associated. Some differences between men and women in the highest category of occupational status occurred, as the former were less likely, while the latter were more likely to be obese.

Conclusions: Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet as a whole dietary pattern, rather than its individual components, is associated with less likelihood of being obese.

Level of evidence: Level V, cross-sectional descriptive study.

Keywords: BMI; Cohort; Mediterranean diet; Obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Eating*
  • Exercise*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult