Objective: To assess the effect of temporary translocation from a Mediterranean to a Northern European environment on the eating habits of a group of foreign students.
Design: Cross-sectional survey of eating habits before and after moving from Greece to Glasgow, Scotland.
Setting: University of Glasgow.
Subjects: Eighty post-graduate Greek students.
Interventions: A self-administered questionnaire comprising of three major sections: (1) general eating habits; (2) frequency of eating selected food items; (3) opinion of food availability in Glasgow.
Results: After moving to Glasgow, significant decreases were reported in the frequency of consuming fresh fruit, raw vegetables, fish, legumes, meat, poultry and fresh fruit juice. The frequency of eating biscuits, savoury snacks, soft/fizzy drinks, alcoholic drinks and mayonnaise, dips and sauces increased. The estimated median daily consumption of fruit and vegetables decreased from 363g in Greece to just 124g in Glasgow, well below the Scottish and WHO dietary target of 400g/day. The main perceived barriers to maintaining customary eating habits were the price of food, the lack of familiar tastes, the greater availability of convenience food and the limited variety of food available in Glasgow, when compared to Greece.
Conclusions: These findings highlight the difficulties that migrant populations face in retaining traditional, often healthier, eating habits when migrating to a foreign country. Barriers of high cost, limited availability and poor quality of familiar foods, need to be addressed in order for migrants to maintain their customary eating patterns. Furthermore, these barriers need to be addressed before nutritionists can expect to see the widespread adoption of the Mediterranean diet by Western populations less familiar with this eating pattern.