By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
WEDNESDAY, May 23, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Evidence linking a Mediterranean diet to a slew of health benefits is extensive and growing, but new research finds Americans in some regions aren't taking to it.
The increasingly popular eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and olive oil while limiting red meat and other saturated fats, refined sugars and processed foods. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce chronic illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
People on the West Coast and in the Northeast have been quick to embrace this healthy eating plan. But it has yet to catch on in parts of the South and some Midwest states, the study showed.
"Given the skyrocketing obesity rates in the U.S.A. over the past few decades, identifying and promoting obesity-modifying dietary approaches is a top priority," wrote the study authors led by Meifang Chen, professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles.
About 3 out of 4 Americans fail to eat recommended amounts of vegetables, fruit and dairy, the authors pointed out. And most consume too much sugar, saturated fat and salt. Meanwhile, obesity-related illnesses cost Americans $190 billion a year -- a fifth of the nation's annual health-care spending.
"Our study identifies and characterizes locations and at-risk populations across the U.S.A. where Mediterranean diet promoting interventions and policies might have the greatest effect in combating the obesity," the researchers wrote.
Chen's team investigated how almost 21,000 non-Hispanic adults in 48 states and Washington, D.C., followed the regimen.
Nearly half said they strictly followed a Mediterranean diet. It was most popular on the West Coast and in the Northeast, including California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, Connecticut and Massachusetts, the study found.
It was less popular in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, northern Indiana and Michigan.
Researchers found that people who lived in poor and rural areas, minority neighborhoods and smaller towns were the least likely to follow the eating plan.
It was more popular among older people and non-smokers, as well as those who were black, college-educated and had an annual household income of at least $75,000.
Those who said they exercised at least four times a week and who watched less than four hours of television daily were also more likely to stick to this healthy eating regimen, the study found.
The findings were to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), in Vienna, Austria. Studies presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.