The Mediterranean diet is seen as one of the world's healthiest. Now, however, a new report suggests a surprising irony: Kids who live in the Mediterranean region are among the most overweight children in the world. For example, 43% of 9-year-old boys and girls in Cyprus are overweight or obese, reports the Guardian, while the figure in Greece, Spain, and Italy is just slightly lower. The problem isn't the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruit, vegetables, fish, and olive oil, and has been heralded for its health benefits, says study author Dr. João Breda of the World Health Organization. Instead, the issue is that Mediterranean kids no longer eat the diet themselves and consume too much sugar, salt, and fat. Plus, they don't get enough exercise.
"The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone," said Breda. "Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it." Specifically on obesity, rates for the nations of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, San Marino and Spain—18% to 21% for boys, and a bit lower for girls—were higher than in the US, where 17% of kids are considered obese, reports CNN. The study looked at 250,000 children from 34 countries between 2015 and 2017. Breda says the results weren't all bad. Researchers have seen a slight decline in childhood obesity rates in Greece, Italy, and Spain since the study period. This "conveys a strong sign of hope that if we do the right things and implement powerful solutions, the problem can be solved," he says. (The Mediterranean diet can be pricey to follow.)