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Italy and FAO advance awareness on the benefits of Mediterranean diet

Preserving local food habits and traditions is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

18 September 2019, Rome - Access for all to healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet is critical for achieving the Agenda 2030, and such diets must be protected and promoted. That was the main message at an event today organized by the Government of Italy with support from FAO aimed at deepening understanding of the Mediterranean diet and raising awareness on how it can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The event - the first of a series of Mediterranean diet-related events - focuses on the origins, history, traditions and landscapes of the Mediterranean diet, and the principles on which it lies.

It brings together Mediterranean diet-related experts ranging from anthropologists to nutritionists and representatives of Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UN agencies and academia.

Mediterranean diet - its benefits for the Sustainable Development Goals

The Mediterranean diet promotes local food production and consumption patterns. It encourages sustainable agriculture, safeguards landscapes and has a low environmental footprint, said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu at the launch of the event at FAO's headquarters.

Yet, cautioned the FAO chief, the Mediterranean diet, like many other traditional diets around the world, is being lost to modern eating habits - an increasing reliance on "easy eating" options provided by supermarkets and fast-food outlets.

Population growth, globalization, urbanization and economic pressures are all causing changes in our food systems, diets and consumption patterns. These lead, in turn, to unhealthy diets with worrying consequences on people's health and lives, and countries' economies.

This is why initiatives protecting and supporting traditional healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are to be commended and knowledge on these diets must be expanded, stressed the FAO Director-General.

Ultimately, sustainable and healthy foods are good for the body and the soul, and are the basis for people to have a productive, healthy and happy life, said Qu Dongyu.

Initiatives that promote Mediterranean diet

FAO recognizes the importance of traditional and indigenous diets across the world, highlighting their benefits and supporting their protection.

With funding from the Italian Government, FAO and Italy have been working on enhancing the adherence to the Mediterranean Diet in Lebanon and Tunisia. The knowledge gained through this work will be transferred into policy interventions to promote the Mediterranean diet more broadly.

As part of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, FAO, Italy and its partners will launch the Action Network - a group of UN agencies and member countries - to foster policy dialogue and enhance local action on traditional, healthy and sustainable diets.

The theme of this year's World Food Day - a day to celebrate the birth of FAO on 16 October - is dedicated to promoting healthy diets.

The importance of traditional diets as a central element of cultural heritage is also reflected in the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems that FAO established in 2012, with two Italian landscapes - the Soave Traditional Vineyards and the Olive Groves of the Slopes between Assisi and Spoleto - recently added to the list of "outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty that combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage".

The Mediterranean diet-related events - to be held between September 2019 and the end of 2020 - aim to advance the uptake of the Mediterranean diet and explore how various aspects of the diet can be incorporated in FAO's work on food security and nutrition, food safety, sustainable food systems, biodiversity, food loss and waste, and agricultural innovation.

Note: Today's event is webcast on The event will feature panel discussions with experts on the Mediterranean diet, among them writer and journalist Alberto Angela.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
At an olive production factory in Viterbo, Italy. Olives are an essential component of the Mediterranean diet.