Fresh fish is plentiful but locals prefer red meat and eat too many sweets

Four in 10 men and six in 10 women living permanently on Greece’s remote islands present a least two to four of the classic risk factors for the potential incidence of cardiovascular disease: smoking, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, according to the «Argo» study. The study – carried out by Dimosthenes Panayiotakos, Georgios Pounis, Dimitris Hasapis, Panayiotis Kottileas and Pavlos Toutouzas – is one of very few ever carried out among residents of these islands and covers nearly all of the inhabitants of the smaller islands (Nisyros, Patmos, Anafi, Thymaina, Kassos, Agathonisi, Leipsoi, Fournoi and Tilos) and some of the inhabitants of Rhodes, a total of 383 men and 417 women. Records were made of age, sex, number of children in the family, educational level, financial and professional status. «The aging population highlights even further the need for greater healthcare on these islands,» said Toutouzas. «There are other findings that should also concern us regarding diet and its consequences, such as the existence of high cholesterol among 60 percent of the men and 65 percent of the women. These are impressive percentages, given that in Athens, according to the Attica study, the percentages are just 39 percent for men and 37 percent for women.» The urbanization of their diet and way of life is evident in the fact that 75 percent of the men (and just 19 percent of the women) are smokers, comparatively higher than in Athens (65 percent). «I am amazed that although so much fish is available, a great deal of red meat and poultry is consumed, yet skimmed milk, which is a whole food, is almost absent from their diet,» said Toutouzas. The study showed that 50 percent of men and 63 percent of women ate sweets and other snacks on a weekly basis, yet consumed very little fruit or vegetables; 86 percent of the men and 76 percent of the women said they ate one to six portions of vegetables a week, when the recommended intake is 21. Only 59 percent of men and 55 percent of women said they ate fruit on a daily basis. About half of the men and women included more than one or two portions of red meat a week in their diet. Poultry intake was also high. «The coexistence of two or more risk factors in the 40-50 age group,» noted Toutouzas, «increases the likelihood of someone not reaching the expected life span which is now 85 and rising. Not only the men have high levels of cholesterol, but the women also have a higher tendency toward sugar diabetes and hypertension than women in urban areas; 36 percent have hypertension, compared to just 24 percent in Attica, while 11 percent have sugar diabetes (compared to 8 percent in Attica).» The cardiologists noted that the low divorce rate (3-4 percent) and the fact that 88 percent of the inhabitants own their own home is a factor for stability. Nevertheless, the average income was described by the respondents as average or low, as were daily wages, something that could be linked to chronic stress and cardiovascular symptoms. The general educational level was described as particularly low, with an average eight years of schooling for both men and women. Most men have a social life, going out with friends three to five times a week, but four in 10 women stay at home most of the time. «A good education,» said Toutouzas, «is linked to the adoption of proper dietary habits and general preventive measures. The longer people stay at school, the better informed, the more careful, they are; they read food labels and are less likely to fall victim to advertisements. It has been observed that those who are over 85 years of age are better educated and avoid the pitfalls – food and drinks that are full of fat, salt or sugar. Of course, there are illiterate people of a great age in the Caucasus and on Mt Athos, but they have either habits or an inner awareness, which in combination with a healthy way of life, keep them away from minor conflicts and stress.» «Proper dietary habits and more exercise would make their lives easier. In order to reach the average life expectancy, one’s arteries have to remain open. Humans need exercise and a proper diet to remain fit, so we are not talking about ‘taking food out of their mouths,’ as some of them say.»