College level education makes people seven times more likely to stick to a Mediterranean diet than people who have a high school diploma. This is according to a recent study from Oklahoma State University College (OSU) of Osteopathic Medicine. The findings also showed that women are three times more likely to follow the Mediterranean diet compared to men. People already familiar with the diet were four times more likely to adhere to it than those who were not familiar with it prior to the study. The researchers aim to provide the best approaches to addressing dietary behavioral change but note that the research is ongoing.
“Our findings highlight the importance of patient education,” says researcher Benjamin Greiner, medical student at OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Finding ways to introduce patients to the Mediterranean diet and guide them through the behavior change process should be a priority for physicians.”
“Although prior knowledge is theorized to act as a proximal determinant for behavior change, this has not been analyzed in cardiac patients consuming heart-healthy diets. We were certainly surprised by the degree to which prior knowledge was associated with dietary adherence,” Greiner tell.
The Mediterranean diet is part of a group of diets touted as promoting heart health. The diet emphasizes the consumption of fish, chicken, legumes, fruits, vegetables and healthy nuts. It limits the consumption of red meat, salt and processed foods.
Heart-healthy diets, the researchers say, are a good way to prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US and costs public health services US$272 billion annually.
How to educate people on heart-healthy diets
The study, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, notes that it is concerning how less than one-third of the participants were familiar with diets that promote heart health. Interdisciplinary teams that include nutritionists can be very effective in educating patients about nutrition, they add.
“The good news is that this is not an expensive or complicated diet, so patients with limited resources should be able to follow it and significantly improve their health,” Greiner says. “While physicians can’t change the level of formal education their patients achieve, they can provide crucial information that helps them live longer and healthier.”
According to Greiner, direct to consumer marketing may work well in increasing the use of specific pharmaceuticals. This could prove a novel, albeit expensive, way to address the public on best dietary practices.
“Local health fairs and community health education seminars are also good options. Lastly, encouraging access to healthy food options and grocery stores through legislation changes has the potential to impact a large population of at-risk or cardiovascular diseased patients that live in food deserts,” he adds.
Going forward, the authors aim to continue their research on the matter. “We are discussing possible options for a cohort study to obtain details on the best approaches to addressing dietary behavior change within the physician office setting,” Greiner concludes.
More research in support of the Mediterranean diet
According to a Purdue University nutrition study, adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern improves heart health, with or without reducing red meat intake, if the red meat consumed is lean and unprocessed. The study does not, however, encourage the consumption of red meat in people who otherwise do not eat red meat.
Another study from the University of South Australia found that a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet may significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease, even proving more effective than a low-fat diet. The findings deliver healthier options for Australians by tailoring the nutrients in the Mediterranean diet to meet the needs of a non-Mediterranean population, said the researchers.
The Mediterranean diet’s benefits do not stop at heart health. It may also help to prevent aggressive prostate cancer and frailty in the elderly, according to anumber of studies. In a study published in The Journal of Urology, researchers determined that men who followed this diet had a lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer than those who followed other common dietary patterns. Separate research involving an analysis of several published studies showed that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of frailty in older individuals, helping keep people healthy and independent as they age.