The residents of one small Greek island have strayed from the Mediterranean diet and an active life largely lived outdoors in favor of a more sedentary and Western way of life, resulting in high levels of obesity compared to the rest of the country, according to a group of experts who are sounding the alarm for other rural parts of Greece where similar habits are emerging.
This is the conclusion of a five-year study dubbed PERSEAS (Prospective Evaluation of Vascular Risk Surrogates) that was designed and carried out by the Medical Society for the Study of Risk Factors in Vascular Diseases in the relatively contained environment of Elafonisos off the coast of the southeastern Peloponnese in 2012-16. Starting in October 2012, the medical society’s team of doctors conducted annual visits to the island in order to carry out a series of tests on 596 individuals who represented 74.5 percent of the target population. The results of the study were presented in Athens last month.
According to the findings, 36 percent of participants were obese and 13 percent of the island’s adult population had a body mass index of over 40, which means that they are at serious risk of health complications from obesity. This is a startling discovery, considering that the nationwide average of dangerous obesity is 5 percent.
The doctors also found that 25.1 percent of the Elafonisos case study patients had high levels of cholesterol, 52.1 percent had high blood pressure and 8.7 percent had diabetes. Just 22.9 percent said they engaged in some form of physical activity three times or for 150 minutes a week – the minimum exercise requirement recommended by doctors – and 34.7 percent were smokers.
In terms of eating habits, just 14.2 percent had two or three units of fruit a day (as per the Mediterranean diet) and just 6 percent had two to three daily portions of salad. An overwhelming majority (96.1 percent) said they consumed olive oil every day and 40.3 percent that they ate fish three to six times a week. What is interesting is that the older islanders (over the age of 65) had healthier dietary habits than their younger counterparts.
Moreover, despite the fact that the medical society’s annual visits to Elafonisos also included campaigns promoting the benefits of a healthy diet, the participants’ habits remained more or less the same over the duration of the five-year study.
“Unhealthy food and lazy habits are tough enemies that cannot be vanquished with two lectures a year,” admitted Ioannis Kyriazis, a pathologist at the KAT hospital in northern Athens, calling on health authorities to heed the findings of the study as an indicator of a bigger problem that is affecting other parts of the country as well.