Regional Ministry of Health and Families promotes healthy eating and the Mediterranean diet during childhood and throughout life in the framework of World Food Day, which is celebrated every year on 16 October under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Under the theme ‘The future of food is in our hands’, in 2021, this event also focuses on promoting a sustainable agri-food system, to improve nutrition, production and the environment for collective well-being and health. The commemoration of World Food Day is also part of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021 (http://www.fao.org/fruits-vegetables-2021/es), which aims to raise awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetables for human nutrition, food security and health, in order to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The Directorate General for Public Health and Pharmaceutical Management, through the Comprehensive Plan for Childhood Obesity, stresses that, during childhood, food should provide energy to maintain vital functions and cover greater needs related to growth and psychomotor development. Energy and nutritional needs are covered by exclusive breastfeeding (or, if this is not possible, by adapted milk) until the age of 6 months, and from then on new foods should be incorporated progressively and in appropriate quantities, also adapting to the baby’s psychomotor development and interests.
During this period it is important to encourage conditions that allow the progressive acquisition of healthy eating habits and a good relationship with food. The process of learning eating habits is especially important during the first years of life as, in addition to facilitating good nutritional status and optimal growth, it can help to consolidate the acquisition of healthy habits for adulthood.
Unhealthy diets and lack of regular physical activity are the main causes of major chronic diseases. Childhood and adolescence are crucial periods for acting on eating behaviour and sedentary lifestyles, as the habits acquired at this stage will determine the state of health of the future adult. In this sense, the Regional Ministry of Education and Sport, in collaboration with the Regional Ministry of Health and Families, has been working on a healthy lifestyle programme for nursery schools called “Creciendo en Salud 0-3” (Growing up in Health 0-3), which will be piloted for this school year 2021/22.
The importance of recovering the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is the dietary pattern followed in the past in the countries bordering the Mediterranean, when most of the food was fresh and local (grown, fished or raised and bought close to where people lived) and when very few products produced by the food industry were consumed.
It is currently the most recommended diet for the whole family and in all households, because it is the one that best corresponds to the way we live and relate to our environment. It is healthy because it is rich in antioxidants that protect against cell deterioration, it is low in unhealthy fats (saturated fatty acids) and rich in beneficial fats, such as monounsaturated fatty acids. It is also rich in complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Changes in lifestyles, with a more sedentary pattern of physical activity and eating habits that prioritise the consumption of ultra-processed foods and drinks and a high consumption of animal products to the detriment of plant-based products, are influencing the abandonment of the Mediterranean diet. Frequent eating out, fast food choices and, in general, the use of foods prepared by the food industry are displacing this traditional healthy diet.
To promote a healthier, fairer and more sustainable food model, it is important to consume in a conscious and informed way. Priority should be given to seasonal, local foods, foods that are sold in bulk and without packaging, especially plastic packaging, which is difficult to manage.