Study evaluates the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet in reducing youth obesity

A team of researchers from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC), led by Maria Filomena Botelho, is part of the international consortium MED4Youth, Mediterranean enriched diet for tackling youth obesity, which is assessing the impact of an energy-restricted Mediterranean diet and enriched with dried fruits, chickpeas, pomegranate and yeast bread to reduce weight and factors associated with youthful obesity.

In this sense, the consortium will now start a clinical study with the participation of 240 obese adolescents, aged between 13 and 16 years old, from Portugal, Spain and Italy. It is the first time that such a study will be carried out with participants from different Mediterranean countries.

The main objective of this four-month clinical study is “to demonstrate that a Mediterranean diet with energy restrictions and enriched with typical Mediterranean products, such as pomegranate, chickpeas, dried fruits and bread yeast, is more effective in reducing weight and cardiovascular risk factors associated with youthful obesity compared to a conventional low-fat, energy-restricted diet, ”explains Maria Filomena Botelho.

The research will use “omnic” technologies, technologies that allow to obtain a global “radiography” of biological processes, to analyze whether the health effects of the clinical intervention are associated with favorable changes in bacterial populations and intestinal metabolites. These techniques, explains the professor at FMUC, allow «to provide the “fingerprints” of the individuals’ dietary pattern, combining conventional dietary instruments with analyzes of selected biomarkers of food intake, validated for the first time in this project».

Maria Filomena Botelho adds that this international research will “raise awareness among the general population, but especially the young people who are going to integrate the study and their parents, about the health benefits derived from the Mediterranean diet, improving their food choices“.

This study also aims to boost the production and consumption of traditional healthy products. Maria Filomena Botelho notes that, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), juvenile obesity has quadrupled in the last 30 years and «18% of children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years of age are overweight or obese, with a particularly high incidence in Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy ».

It should also be noted that obesity is associated with higher rates of diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and high blood pressure, risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

The MED4Youth project consortium is coordinated by the Eurecat technology center (Spain) and, in addition to the University of Coimbra, it also involves the University of Parma (Italy), Shikma Field Crops (Israel), the Scientific Food Center (Jordan) and NOVAPAN (Spain).

This project is part of the PRIMA program which is supported by the European Union and ACCIO – the Catalan Agency for Business Competitiveness -, the Center for Industrial Development in Spain (CDTI), the Israeli Innovation Authority, the Ministry of Education in Italy – Universities and Research, the Fund to Support Scientific Research in Jordan and the Foundation for Science and Technology in Portugal.

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