Fewer than half of Italians now stick to the Mediterranean diet their country helped invent, experts say.
Italy’s traditional cuisine, rich in fish, vegetables, fruit and olive oil, is thought to lower the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Yet more than 50 per cent of Italians are now opting for diets containing red meat and processed foods high in fat and sugar.
The study by researchers at University of Rome Tor Vergata shows that the change is most pronounced in younger Italians. Among those aged between 15 and 24, less than a third stick to a Mediterranean diet, according to the study reported in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders.
Antonino De Lorenzo, professor of human nutrition at Tor Vergata, said the preference for traditional Italian food had collapsed compared with 50 years ago. “It’s now almost as bad as the US,” he told La Repubblica.
Earlier reports had already suggested that junk food is fuelling an obesity epidemic among young Italians. Italy now has a higher proportion of overweight children than anywhere in mainland Europe, with more than a third – 36 per cent – of Italians either overweight or obese by the age of eight.
“We know from research that life expectancy at age 40 in the obese is between six and seven years lower than in people with normal weight,” said Professor De Lorenzo.
Italians’ growing fondness for fast food was underlined in 2011 when Gualtiero Marchesi, the first chef in Italy to earn three Michelin stars, announced three new “creations”: two hamburgers and a dessert for the Italian menu of the McDonald’s fast-food chain.