Kids who closely followed a diet rich in fish, nuts, grains, vegetables and fruits -- the so-called Mediterranean diet -- were 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not follow that type of diet, the researchers found. This was true regardless of age, sex, wealth or country.
Researchers looked at the weight and eating habits of more than 9,000 children in eight countries: Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden. The youngsters' weight and body fat were checked at the start of the study and again two years later.
Swedish children scored highest and those in Italy were second in terms of following a Mediterranean-style diet, while youngsters in Cyprus were least likely to follow the diet, according to Dr. Gianluca Tognon of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and colleagues.
"The promotion of a Mediterranean dietary pattern is no longer a feature of Mediterranean countries," the researchers said. "Considering its potential beneficial effects on obesity prevention, this dietary pattern should be part of [European Union] obesity prevention strategies and its promotion should be particularly intense in those countries where low levels of adherence are detected."
The study was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the European Congress on Obesity in Bulgaria. Until they're published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, findings presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary.