Cardiovascular advantages of the Mediterranean diet linked to socioeconomic status

A study conducted by a team of researchers from the Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Health Care (I.R.C.C.S.) Neuromed, Italy, states that the risk of cardiovascular disease is reduced by the Mediterranean diet; however, the benefits are subjected to highly educated or rich people alone.

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The team from the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention who were led by Giovanni de Gaetano analyzed more than 18,000 citizens who were recruited for the Moli-sani study and published the research in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The decline in the cardiovascular risk was seen only in people who had a higher educational status or/and better household income and not in less advantaged groups, even if, both were fundamentally provided with an equivalent adherence to the pattern of eating.

Marialaura Bonaccio, researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention and the first author commented the study as the first of its kind to reveal that the health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet can be altered by the socioeconomic position of the people.

She said:

A person from low socioeconomic status, who struggles to follow a Mediterranean model, is unlikely to get the same advantages of a person with higher income, despite the fact that they both similarly adhere to the same healthy diet".

The Neuromed researchers made extra effort to try to unravel the possible mechanisms behind such dissimilarities.

Licia Iacoviello, head of the Laboratory of nutritional and molecular Epidemiology, explained that contradictory to the less advantaged people - provided a similar adherence to the Mediterranean diet - a greater number of indices were possibly reported by the most advantaged groups.

For instance, among those who reported a most favorable adherence to the Mediterranean model diet that is measured by a score including vegetables, fruits and nuts, cereals, legumes, fats, fish, meat, dairy products as well as alcohol intake, products richer in polyphenols and antioxidants are consumed by the people who possessed higher education or income. The socioeconomic gradient was also noticed in the intake of whole-grain products as well as cooking methods preferred.

She also added that:

These substantial differences in consuming products belonging to Mediterranean diet lead us to think that quality of foods may be as important for health as quantity and frequency of intake".

Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Department commented that the findings are expected to promote a serious consideration of socioeconomic scenario of health. According to him, socioeconomic differences in health are increasing even in accessibility to healthy diets.

He added: “During the very last years, we documented a rapid shifting from the Mediterranean diet in the whole population, but it might also be that the weakest citizens tend to buy 'Mediterranean' food with lower nutritional value.” He concluded by saying that one cannot continue claiming the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, unless, an equal access to it is guaranteed.

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