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The nutrition transition in Spain: a European Mediterranean country


Background: Mediterranean diets are felt to be healthful diets linked with reduced mortality from diet-related noncommunicable diseases.

Objective: To examine trends in diet, activity, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases for Spain and compare these with other European countries, particularly those from the Mediterranean area.

Design: A combination of large-scale primary and secondary nationally representative data analysis are used.

Data: Nationally representative data on household food consumption, physical activity, adult obesity, and cause of death are combined with regionally representative adolescent obesity data, obtained in the last four decades. Comparative diet and obesity data come from nationally representative comparable data, obtained during the same period.

Results: The Spanish diet has shifted toward a very high level of fat intake, high fruit and dairy intake and moderate vegetable intake. Dairy and fruit intakes were the highest in Europe, as was the proportion of energy from fat, when we compared with the available data. Adult overweight and obesity trends show a marked increase in the past decade to levels as high as Italy and far above France. Overweight for children aged 6–7 is above that of even the USA, while adolescent overweight levels are among the highest in the world. Cardiovascular disease mortality is low, as with Italy and France, and the cancer mortality rate is lower than Italy and France.

Conclusions: We have observed that, in Spain, relatively high obesity prevalences and dairy intake levels are related to much lower levels of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality than are found in other European countries. This unique Spanish dietary and obesity pattern should be further explored in order to clarify the causal links.

Support: The National Institutes of Health (NIH; R01-HD30880 and R01-HD38700).

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The study was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH; R01-HD30880 and R01-HD38700). We are grateful to Samara Nielsen, in particular, and also Youfa Wang for research assistance. We also thank Ms Frances Dancy for her administrative assistance and Mr Tom Swasey for assistance with the graphics.

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Moreno, L., Sarría, A. & Popkin, B. The nutrition transition in Spain: a European Mediterranean country. Eur J Clin Nutr 56, 992–1003 (2002).

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