Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Greek statistics

The title of the e-newspaper report I read yesterday sounded rather shocking:
"Δύο στους δέκα έλληνες σε διατροφικό κίνδυνο! Στην Ελλάδα 439.000 παιδιά ζουν πλέον κάτω από το όριο της φτώχειας"
which translates to: "Two in ten Greeks in nutritional danger! In Greece 439,000 children now live below the poverty line." The figures have been taken from the latest report by the Greek committee of the United Nations in combination with figures released by another study conducted by the Hellenic Nutritionists Society, during June-September 2012, in Athens, Thessaloniki, Katerini, Ioannina, Corinthia, Crete and Cephallonia.

The article starts off with a discussion of Greeks' recent adoption of fast food which damaged their health, especially that of their children; this is nothing new of course, since it is also a common trait in Western/developed nations. A return to the classic Greek diet has been proposed as a solution, but this is viewed as "prohibitive" for most Greeks, given the "present circumstances". The latter phrase is not explained, but I take it to mean that we are all too busy to cook bean stews, or that it may be too expensive to do so.

An attempt was made to measure how "Greekly" people ate. From a sample of 798 adults aged 18-73, it was found that half the group showed relatively good nutritional habits, whole the other half that didn't admitted that they did know better but did not follow a healthy diet. Women were better at keeping to a healthy diet, but at the same time, half the sample did not adopt the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The report also states that more than 1.5 million Greeks suffer from high blood pressure, while 40% of the Greek population also suffer from high cholesterol, and 15-16,000 Greeks per year have a heart attack. Diabetes in Greece is as common as in other European countries (4%) while the risk of obesity has increased to 40%.

The figures are quite damning, but they should also be viewed with caution. If Greece has a high rate of unemployment, then there should be more time available to people to cook a Mediterranean meal, something like bean stew.  It is also reported in the popular press that fresh products are being sold at very competitive prices at the street stalls (λαϊκή), while discount supermarkets sell pantry staples at low prices; the cost of food isn't always as expensive as the cost of living is made to sound in the mass media. To my mind, the research sounds counter-intuitive.

The figure of 439,000 children living below the poverty line is a worrying one; the number was presumably calculated from statistics for income and household size including number of children. Such figures do not take into account the stories that come to light every day about people who declare an extremely low annual income to the state while at the same holding Swiss (or other) bank accounts with more than half a million euros.

According to Greek statistics, there is poverty and hunger in Greece. But poverty levels are often cited according to international standards, always using mainly income as the basis. Different lifestyles are not always taken into account, eg the high reliance on one own's food resources, something Greeks revere and take on like a national sport. I'm sorry but I don't buy those figures.

There's a fasolada lying in my fridge today, leftover from Monday because I didn't have time to prepare a meal last night for the next day's lunch. There are also some tomatoes and peppers from the garden, and there's a 2kg-block of some of the best graviera I have ever tasted, which was given to us (as is done every year) as payment in kind, by a farmer who uses some of our land for grazing his flock. My children's lunch box today contains the last pieces of turkey meat, another gift from a relative, supplemented by some pasta. Poor man's food? Give me a break. Even our pet dog and cat eat home-cooked food: there's some leftover pilafi rice for both of them from Sunday's lunch that no one wants to touch now.

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