People living in the birthplace of one of the healthiest diets are getting less healthy. 
Credit: Golden Brown

It turns out one place where people could be following the Mediterranean diet better, is the actual Mediterranean. According to the World Health Organization, the diet, which consists of protein and healthy fats from fish, olive oil, and tomatoes, is more likely followed by children in Sweden than those who live in the Southern European region themselves, reports The Guardian.

The news is from the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative which has been measuring trends in childhood weight and obesity in Europe since 2008. The study found that more than 40 percent of children in Cyprus, Greece, and Spain are either obese or severely overweight—which are some of Europe's most egregious obesity rates.

Dr. Joao Breda, head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Disease, says that sweets, processed fast-food and sugary drinks have had a damaging effect on many Mediterranean kids. It's a situation not unlike of the one here in the United States.

“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” Breda said. “There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are [eating] close[st] to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids.”

In addition to eating too much sugar, salt, and fat, children in the Mediterranean also don't exercise as much as they once used to.

“Physical inactivity is one of the issues that is more significant in the southern European countries,” Breda said. “A man in Crete in the 60s would need 3,500 calories because he was going up and down the mountain.” The data that lead to Breda's conclusion was collected between 2015 and 2017.

Which countries lead the way for lowest childhood obesity, you may ask? They include Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, but even these nations are experiencing a "transition" to Western diets, Breda said. France, Norway, Ireland, Latvia, and Denmark also have some of the lowest rates of obesity, fluctuating between 5 and 9 percent.

Breda says Italy is making some improvements, as now one-in-three children are eating fruit every day—but trends suggest this is more of a global epidemic than ever.