The Eurecat technology centre leads a European-level clinical study whose main purpose is to demonstrate that an energy-restricted Mediterranean diet enriched with products typical of the Mediterranean, such as pomegranate, chickpeas, nuts and sourdough bread, is more effective in reducing weight and cardiovascular risk factors associated with youth obesity than a conventional energy-restricted low-fat diet.

The study will last four months and is to be conducted with 240 teens aged 13 to 17 with obesity from Spain, Portugal and Italy. For the first time “a study of this kind will be carried out with participants from different Mediterranean countries,” points out Aurora Sesé, the project’s coordinator.

Omics technologies will be used as part of the research. “They will give us a better understanding of the mechanisms by which the Mediterranean diet produces its healthy effects based on analysis of bacterial populations and metabolites in the intestine,” says Antoni Caimari, the project’s technical coordinator and head of Eurecat’s Biotech Area.

“The study will be accompanied by an educational web app to encourage and maintain a healthy behaviour,” notes Aurora Sesé.

Antoni Caimari adds that the project also aims “to drive production and consumption of traditional healthy Mediterranean products by fostering long-term sustained demand, make agri-food industry undertakings more competitive and bolster local production systems.”

Youth obesity in Mediterranean countries

World Health Organisation figures for 2016 show youth obesity has quadrupled over the last 30 years and 18% of children and teens between the ages of 5 and 19 are overweight or obese, with a particularly high incidence in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Obesity is associated with increased rates of diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

The MED4Youth project consortium is coordinated by the Eurecat technology centre and also involves the University of Parma (Italy), the University of Coimbra (Portugal), Shikma Field Crops (Israel), the Scientific Food Center (Jordan) and Panishop-Novapan (Spain).

The project is part of the PRIMA programme which is supported by the European Union and ACCIO, the Catalan Agency for Business Competitiveness, Spain’s Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology CDTI, the Israel Innovation Authority, Italy’s Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, the Jordan Scientific Research Support Fund and Portugal’s Foundation for Science and Technology.