a1 Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of Athens, 75 M. Asias Street, GR-115 27, Athens, Greece
a2 Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Objective: To assess whether the Mediterranean diet contributes to overall mortality differences and trends between Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean European Union (EU) countries.
Design: Routinely recorded adjusted overall mortality and food availability data in Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean EU countries. A Mediterranean diet score designed a priori was used as instrument.
Setting: Fifteen EU countries in the 1960s and the 1990s.
Subjects: The general population in the 15 EU countries.
Results: The difference between Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean EU countries in a 7-point Mediterranean diet score was reduced from 2.9 in the 1960s to 1.6 in the 1990s. This reduction may underlie the reduction in the difference in general mortality between these countries, from about 100 deaths per 100 000 person-years in the early 1970s to about 50 deaths per 100 000 person-years in the 1990s.
Conclusions: The decline in overall mortality in the 15 EU countries over the last 25 years is probably unrelated to diet. However, the gradual loss of the survival advantage of Mediterranean EU citizens, compared with other EU citizens, may be linked to the gradual abandonment by the former of their dietary traditions.
† Recipient of the IV Grande Covian Award.