Eating your way to less stress: Mediterranean diet linked to lower stress in Korean baby boomers

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In a recent cross-sectional study published in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice, researchers from Korea investigated the link between psychosocial stress levels and adherence to the Mediterranean diet among baby boomers in Korea. They found that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of high psychosocial stress in both men and women.

Study: Higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with reduced psychosocial stress levels in baby boomers: a cross-sectional study. Image Credit: Luigi Giordano / ShutterstockStudy: Higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with reduced psychosocial stress levels in baby boomers: a cross-sectional study. Image Credit: Luigi Giordano / Shutterstock


The aging baby boomer population in Korea, comprising around 15% of those born between 1955 and 1963, is transitioning into old age, posing challenges due to declining healthy life expectancy despite increasing overall life expectancy. As middle-aged health behaviors significantly impact later quality of life, there is a need to promote healthier lifestyles among baby boomers for their well-being in old age. Mental health in older adults is particularly crucial, as perceived stress levels have been linked to cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate that perceived psychosocial stress is independently associated with a higher risk of stroke in adults.

Diet and mental health are bidirectionally related. The Mediterranean diet, high in legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, moderate in alcohol, and low in red meat and high-fat dairy, is shown to be associated with several potential health benefits. Adopting this diet around retirement age may promote healthy aging, potentially preventing and alleviating depression and enhancing cognitive abilities. Studies suggest this diet may effectively mitigate psychosocial stress and buffer against its negative impact on executive function, though further research is needed. Therefore, the present study aimed to explore the potential relationship between Mediterranean diet adherence among Korean baby boomers and their psychosocial stress levels to inform mental health management strategies in later life.

About the study

In the present cross-sectional study, data was obtained from the Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study (KoGES), involving adults aged 42 to 50 years from urban and rural regions of South Korea. A total of 1,656 participants (889 men) were included. Individuals with extreme daily energy intake and non-respondents to the questionnaires were excluded.

A revised version of the Semi-Quantitative Food Frequency Questionnaire (SQFFQ) and MTDS (based on the Mediterranean diet score) were used to assess participants' usual dietary intake. The MTDS comprised 11 components: fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, dairy products, alcohol, red meat, poultry, and olive oil. Participants were assigned points based on their weekly consumption frequency of these food groups, with higher scores indicating better adherence to the diet. Alcohol consumption and olive oil use were assessed separately. Notably, kimchi and pickles were excluded from specific food groups, while mushrooms and seaweed were included.

The participants' socioeconomic status, demographics, and lifestyle factors were comprehensively assessed, including age, body mass index, monthly household income, education level, smoking status, and physical activity level. The Perceived Stress Scale (PWI-SF) for Koreans, consisting of 18 questions on recent physical and psychosocial experiences, was rated on a 4-point scale. A higher score indicated higher levels of stress. Statistical methods included chi-square test, analysis of variance, Duncan's post-hoc test, and logistic regression.

Results and discussion

When MTDS adherence groups (tertiles) were compared, no significant differences were found in most characteristics between these groups. However, among women, those in the highest adherence group tended to have higher levels of education. Additionally, in men, those with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet had lower scores of psychosocial stress.

Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was found to be associated with increased consumption of vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, fruits, legumes, and fish, while red meat and dairy product consumption decreased. Moreover, in men, poultry and alcohol consumption decreased with decreasing MTDS. This trend was not observed in women due to similar intake levels across groups. With higher MTDS, energy and nutrient intakes increased, except for nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, and riboflavin in men and fat and retinol in women (P < 0.05).

Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was linked to a reduced risk of high psychosocial stress, with a noticeable decrease trend (P = 0.026 for women and 0.016 for men). Men and women with the highest MTDS had 41% and 39% lower odds, respectively, of experiencing high psychosocial stress compared to those with the lowest adherence.

The study is limited by its cross-sectional design, potential recall and social desirability biases in dietary assessments, and reliance on self-administered questionnaires for estimating psychosocial stress, which may introduce measurement errors and residual confounding.


In conclusion, emphasizing adherence to a Mediterranean diet in baby boomers could potentially enhance healthy aging and improve health outcomes. In the future, studies could focus on developing effective interventions to promote adopting and adhering to this diet among baby boomers.

Journal reference:
  • Higher adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with reduced psychosocial stress levels in baby boomers: a cross-sectional study. Jang EH et al., Nutrition Research and Practice, 18(2):257-268 (2024), DOI: 10.4162/nrp.2024.18.2.257,


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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