Young eating more meat and less veg and fruit

University of Malta study finds that students have reported eating low amounts of fruit, vegetables, legumes and olive oil

University of Malta students enrolled in the first-ever study to be conducted in Malta on adherence to the Mediterranean diet, have reported consuming nearly two portions of meat a day in contrast to less than three portions of fish per week.

While 40% eat less than one portion of fish a week, 42% eat more than one portion of meat a day. On a daily basis, 44% are eating less than one portion of fruit, 36% less than one portion of legumes, and 26% less than a portion of vegetables. 48% reported using olive oil occasionally.

They also reported eating low to moderate intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and olive oil.

The study in the Journal of Health Sciences, designed by Yasmine Mustafa Treki and Petra Jones from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Malta, plotted a score for “adherence” to the Mediterranean diet. It ranged from 0, the lowest level of adherence, to 18 points, with 8.8 tagged as a ‘medium’ score.

Only four out of 50 students scored highly between 13-18, while 10 scored a low 0-6.

The Mediterranean diet is characterised by daily consumption of seasonal fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals. It also includes moderate to high consumption of fish and dairy products. On the other hand, the consumption of red meat, poultry and derivatives are limited to weekly meals. It is also characterized by moderate consumption of alcohol, mainly in the form of red wine during meals and special occasions and the daily consumption of extra virgin olive oil used on a daily basis as the main source of dietary fat.

The study showed weekly consumption of legumes was relatively low – only 32% had over two portions a week. Participants reported consuming over 1.5 portions of meat and meat products per day, and less than 1-2.5 portions of fish per week. Around half consumed less than one portion of dairy product daily. Daily alcohol consumption was low, with most participants consuming less than one unit per day, whilst almost a quarter reported using olive oil in cooking or dressing on a regular basis.

Compared to other studies in universities in Spain, Cyprus and Greece, the Maltese students in this cohort registered the lowest consumption of fish and olive oil.

The pilot study, which can be extended to a larger sample of the Maltese population, recruited students outside the University premises.

The results revealed an inadequate nutritional intake for some food groups, reflecting a more Westernized dietary pattern characterized by meat consumption.

The consumption of more than two portions of fruits was higher in students with a high BMI (body mass index) value. In addition, students from healthcare faculties consumed more fruits and vegetables than those in other faculties. Students aged 21–23 consumed more portions of legumes than other age groups. Males consumed more fish, meat and dairy products than female students.

The study’s authors recommended public health and policy initiatives to increase adherence to healthy dietary patterns and shift current dietary trends back to the traditional, healthier Mediterranean diet.