Transnational initiative intends to generate sustained changes to promote healthy and eco-friendly agri-food systems / Funding provided through the EU PRIMA program
14 November 2023
Within the past few decades, dietary habits have shifted dramatically toward the consumption of ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFDs). The overall contribution of UPFDs to nutrient intake largely exceeds 50 percent in many Euro-Mediterranean countries and has been shown to be associated with harmful effects, not only on our health, but also on our ecosystem. "In order to break through this vicious circle, we urgently need to change our eating habits and – in combination with physical and social activities – find a sustainable healthy active lifestyle, sustainable for us as humans and sustainable for our environment," said Dr. Achraf Ammar from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The PRIMA EU project MEDIET4ALL has been launched with the aim of promoting a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle. Under the leadership of Dr. Achraf Ammar, supported by Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn, Professor Juliane Heydenreich and Professor Christiana Schallhorn, JGU is coordinating the project, which involves ten partners from eight countries, especially countries from the Mediterranean region. The consortium has been provided with a budget of EUR 2.4 million. The project was initiated by a kick-off meeting in Mainz in July 2023.
Typical Mediterranean foods to be used to address the effects of unhealthy diets
These drastic shifts in dietary habits toward more industrialized dietary patterns, such as takeout food and UPFDs, is mainly due to modern societal trends and the emergence of global industrial food systems and large transnational corporations offering convenient, hyper-palatable, attractive, and easy-to-consume food promoted via intensive marketing. "This alarming global growth in UPFD consumption and the resulting adverse effects on the population and the ecosystem highlight the urgent need for actions to tackle these rapid negative shifts and scrutinize their negative impacts," emphasized Dr. Achraf Ammar, a researcher at the JGU Institute of Sports Science. "The MEDIET4ALL project will bring together healthy and eco-friendly perspectives, multi-disciplinary expert-domain knowledge, and smart technologies to support the transition from a UPFD culture to unprocessed or minimally processed foods," added Ammar.
The cooperation partners base their studies on the so-called Mediterranean diet (MEDIET). Scientific studies showed that this form of diet is the world's most evidence-based eating pattern for promoting health and longevity while saving the ecosystem. Interestingly, MEDIET is also identified as the easiest to follow among low-processed eating patterns. In the kitchen, emphasis is placed on fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, and olive oil, supplemented by fish as well as very little dairy products and meat. With the help of a study based on multilingual electronic surveys, the research partners are initially trying to understand the behavior of Euro-Mediterranean consumers and to identify their adherence to this MED diet along with determinant factors. Then they will design and test various tailored programs to support the adherence to a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle including not only dietary recommendations, but also physical and social activities. "Physical activity is absolutely crucial. But exercise alone – without proper nutrition and social inclusion – is not enough for a healthy active lifestyle. The interaction of these elements is highlighted in the modern MEDIET pyramid and constitutes, with other elements, the basics for our project," stated Ammar.
Cooperation between partners from the EU and North Africa
The MEDIET4ALL project covers many interdisciplinary fields, various main objectives, and diverse research backgrounds of those involved – ranging from the domain of food science, process engineering, nutritional science, and dietetics through to sports science, computer science, digital health sciences, and packaging technology. Among the project's academic partners are the University of Burgundy in France, the University of València in Spain, the University of Palermo in Italy, the University of Sfax in Tunisia, École Nationale d'Agriculture de Meknès and Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie de Rabat in Morocco, and the University of Boumerdes in Algeria. Non-academic partners include the Vitagora agri-food innovation cluster in France and the training institute and social enterprise Microtarians in Luxembourg.
"Our challenge is to create a transnational movement to promote the MEDIET culture and thereby support the transition toward healthy minimally processed food," said Ammar. To this end, the MEDIET4ALL project will combine scientific and promotional activities to simultaneously promote the convenience, attractiveness, and competitiveness of MED food, while raising the awareness of the adverse effects of ultra-processed foods in comparison to the general benefits of MEDIET. Accordingly, various products and activities are going to be programmed, including conducting cooking classes, creating digital toolkits and collaborative games, organizing awareness and motivation campaigns, developing and testing highly nutritional modern recipes with their eco-friendly bio-packaging, setting up an integrative platform for consumer-producer contact, and developing and testing MEDIET4ALL app that will act as an intelligent lifestyle coach.
Overall, the project partners aim beyond pure health aspects. The Mediterranean diet also helps to save water and energy, to reduce greenhouse gases, and to preserve soils. The project is therefore part of the Farm to Fork Strategy of the European Green Deal, with which the EU wants to become climate neutral by 2050.
MEDIET4ALL – A Transnational Movement to Support the Sustainable Transition Towards a Healthy and Eco-friendly Agri-Food System through the Promotion of MEDIET and its Lifestyle in Modern Society – is supported by the PRIMA European program "Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area". PRIMA supports new research approaches and innovations in the Mediterranean region to improve water availability and sustainable agriculture in regions severely impacted by climate change, urbanization, and population growth.
With the universities of Mainz, Bourgogne, Palermo, und València, the MEDIET4ALL project brings together four partners of the European University Alliance FORTHEM to collaborate in this field of research.
Out of EUR 2.4 million in total funding, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in this project with some EUR 510,000.