Press Releases

2003 Releases

Close Adherence to a Traditional Mediterranean Diet Promotes Longevity

For immediate release:  June 25, 2003

Boston, MA— Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece, assessed the dietary habits of study participants from all regions of Greece and found that those who strongly adhered to a Mediterranean diet had improved longevity compared to study participants who did not follow that diet as closely. Using a ten point scale to measure adherence to the diet, a two point increase was related to a 25 percent reduction in total mortality among the participants. The results appear in the June 26, 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The traditional Mediterranean diet features an abundance of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and cereals and regular use of olive oil (monounsaturated fats), moderate amounts of fish and dairy products (mostly yogurt or cheese), small amounts of red meat (low intake of saturated fats) and moderate consumption of alcohol, usually in the form of wine and consumed at meals.

The researchers analyzed the diets of more than 22,000 participants enrolled in the Greek component of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) between 1994 and 1999. EPIC is conducted in 22 research centers in 10 European countries and is coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Dietary intake for the year preceding enrollment was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire that included approximately 150 foods and beverages commonly consumed in Greece. A section of the questionnaire addressed frequency and duration of physical activity. The degree to which a participant adhered to the diet was assigned points on a scale from zero (little or no adherence) to nine (strict adherence).

During an average four years of follow-up among the participants, 275 deaths were reported, with 97 resulting from cancer and 54 from heart disease. Close adherence to the Mediterranean diet was directly related to an overall reduction in deaths among the study participants. An increase of two points on the scale reduced total mortality by 25 percent with a slightly greater advantage in reduction in deaths for heart disease.

 “The results are clear; a Mediterranean diet featuring olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruits and low in saturated fats and enjoyed for many years by the people of that region, is healthy and promotes longevity,” said Dimitrios Trichopoulos, senior author of the study and the Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The magnitude of the reduction in mortality underscores the longevity advantage that adult Mediterranean populations have experienced for centuries.” Antonia Trichopoulou, lead author of the study and coordinator for EPIC-Greece added, “The relationship between closely following the Mediterranean diet and reduced mortality appears to increase with age. This appears to reflect the cumulative beneficial effects of a healthy diet.”

The study was supported by the Europe Against Cancer Program of the European Commission, the Greek Ministry of Health and the Greek Ministry of Education.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu