Education correlates to higher dietary adherence, researchers find

Individuals are four times more likely to adhere to a Mediterranean diet when they are already familiar with the protocol, according to new research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

The study also found people with a college education are nearly seven times more likely to adhere to a Mediterranean Diet than people with only a high school education, according to the research, and women are three times more likely than men to follow the diet.

Researchers used a survey to analyze patient knowledge of the Mediterranean diet. Patients were separated into low–, medium–, and high–diet adherence groups based on their daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and nuts. Multinomial logistic regression was used to analyze patients’ knowledge of Mediterranean diet principles with dietary adherence, according to the study. 

A total of 337 patients were included in the study. Patients with a college education, patients reporting familiarity with the diet, and women were 6.7, 4.0, and 3.2 times as likely, respectively, to have strong adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the study says. 

"Our findings highlight the importance of patient education," said researcher Benjamin Greiner, OMS III, MPH, of the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa, in a statement released earlier today. "Finding ways to introduce patients to the Mediterranean diet and guide them through the behavior change process should be a priority for physicians." 

The Mediterranean diet, part of a category of heart healthy diets, emphasizes increased intake of poultry, fish, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. It also decreases red meat, processed foods, and salt. The diet is consistently ranked as one of the best overall diets, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s annual round-up.

Researchers say one of the greatest benefits of heart healthy diets is a reduced risk of cardio vascular disease and cardiac events. One study found people who consume a Mediterranean diet were 30 percent less likely to experience a major cardiac event than those on a reduced fat diet.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has an annual direct economic impact of $272.5 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total costs associated with cardiovascular disease care comprise 17 percent of the overall national health care expenditures.

Given this finding, researchers said it is concerning that less than one-third of the study participants were familiar with heart healthy diets. Physician practices with interdisciplinary teams that include nutritionists can be very effective in educating patients about nutrition, researchers noted. 

"The good news is this is not an expensive or complicated diet, so patients with limited resources should be able to follow it and significantly improve their health," Greiner says. "While physicians can't change the level of formal education their patients achieve, they can provide crucial information that helps them live longer and healthier."