Last updated June 18, 2019 at 4:19 pm
Researchers warn that our brain health is declining, largely due to the increase of calories we consume every day.
The average person eats many more calories than they did 50 years ago – equivalent to an extra burger meal every day – which is having devastating results for our brains and waistlines, a health expert from Australian National University warns.
Lead reseacher Nicolas Cherbuin from the ANU Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing, says brain health can decline much earlier in life than previously thought due, in large part, to a society that promotes unhealthy lifestyle choices.
People are eating away at their brain
“People are eating away at their brain with a really bad fast-food diet and little-to-no exercise,” says Cherbuin.
“We’ve found strong evidence that people’s unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise for sustained periods of time puts them at serious risk of developing type 2 diabetes and significant declines in brain function, such as dementia and brain shrinkage.”
According to the research, this will lead to more than 10 per cent of all adults will suffer from type 2 diabetes by 2030.
“The link between type 2 diabetes and the rapid deterioration of brain function is already well established,” says Cherbuin.
“But our work shows that neurodegeneration, or the loss and function of neurons, sets in much, much earlier – we’ve found a clear association between this brain deterioration and unhealthy lifestyle choices.”
Damage to health is irreversible
“The damage done is pretty much irreversible once a person reaches midlife, so we urge everyone to eat healthy and get in shape as early as possible – preferably in childhood but certainly by early adulthood.”
A standard fast-food burger meal including fries and soft drink is about 650 kilocalories – roughly the extra amount that people worldwide, on average, are consuming everyday compared to what they were eating in the 1970s.
Cherbuin says this equates to a quarter of the recommended daily food energy needs for men and just under a third for women.
“The extra amount of energy that people consume daily compared to 50 years ago means that many people have an unhealthy diet.”
“People eating too much of the wrong kind of food, particularly fast food, is the other big worry. As a society, we need to stop asking, ‘do you want fries with that?’, and the mindset that comes with it. If we don’t, then expect to see more overweight and obese people suffering from serious diseases.”
Current efforts are too little, too late
Cherbuin says current efforts to guard against declining brain health were often a case of “too little, too late”.
“What has become really apparent in our investigation is that advice for people to reduce their risk of brain problems, including their risk of getting dementia, is most commonly given in their 60s or later, when the ‘timely prevention’ horse has already bolted.”
“Many people who have dementia and other signs of cognitive dysfunction, including shrinking brains, have increased their risk throughout life by eating too much bad food and not exercising enough.”
“One of the best chances people have of avoiding preventable brain problems down the track is to eat well and exercise from a young age. The message is simple, but bringing about positive change will be a big challenge. Individuals, parents, medical professionals and governments all have an important role to play.”