Need-to-know findings: latest research

2nd August 2021 | Eativity editors

Many of us have been guilty of gaining a few COVID kilos over the past year or so, but new research has revealed that fewer Aussies are aware of the potentially serious health risks of being overweight. Meanwhile, two studies out of Perth have uncovered some rather scary findings about energy drinks, while researchers in Melbourne have revealed just how risky dining out with allergies can be. On a more positive front, scientists offer us a very simple and delicious way to keep our minds sharp as we get older. Read on to find out more.

We’re getting bigger – and more complacent

Our waistlines are expanding, and the average number on the scales has crept up, but the Heart Foundation warns that Australians are growing more complacent about the health risks of those extra kilos. The average Aussie male is now 11.2kg above a healthy weight, while the average woman is 7.1kg above a healthy weight.

Carrying excess weight, particularly around the mid-section, puts you at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. Growing waistlines are also putting Australians in the danger zone. A waist measurement of 80cm or more for women and 94cm or more for men increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes. The average woman’s waist size is 88cm, while the average bloke measures 98cm around the middle.

A recent Heart Foundation survey of 7000 people found that just one in four Australians aged 30-65 are aware that being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease – down from 31 percent five years earlier. The proportion of Aussies in this age bracket who would try to lose weight to reduce the risk of heart disease also dropped from 16 percent to 12 percent.

Two-thirds of Australian adults are now overweight or obese. As well as increasing the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, obesity has also emerged as a risk factor for severe complications if infected with COVID-19.

Hidden risks of energy drinks

Two Curtin University research studies have found the excessive consumption of energy drinks, even sugar-free varieties, can cause significant damage to brain cells and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The first study found excessive energy drink consumption caused damage to blood vessels in the brain. The other study found that energy drinks induce metabolic syndrome (a collection of conditions that often occur together and increase your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease) to almost the same extent as a Western diet that’s high in saturated fats.

Lead researcher for both projects, Associate Professor Ryusuke Takechi from the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, says while the studies were conducted on mouse models, the findings about long-term use are a potential warning to consumers.

“Energy drinks containing large quantities of caffeine and sugar are increasingly being consumed – particularly by young people,” he says. “Many may believe that sugar-free varieties are ‘healthier’ for them, but our studies found the opposite.”

Dangerous dining

A survey of Australians with food allergies has found that a quarter have had a severe allergic reaction when dining out – even when staff had been told about the food allergy.

Researchers based in Melbourne conducted an anonymous online survey of people with food allergies and those caring for people with food allergies. Twenty-seven percent reported they or their dependent had experienced anaphylaxis while eating at a restaurant. In 87 percent of these cases, staff had been informed of the food allergy beforehand.

Australia has the highest incidence of food allergy in the world. One in 10 babies born in Australia will develop a food allergy before their first birthday, and around 800,000 Australians live with a potentially life-threatening food allergy. Australia’s leading allergy support organisation, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, has called for mandatory food allergy training for all foodservice staff to help prevent future anaphylaxis, including fatalities.

“Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia strongly encourages venue owners to make the All about Allergens online training course a prerequisite for all employees,” says Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia CEO Maria Said. “It’s free, it’s online and it takes just 90 minutes to complete. Not only could it save a life; it could also save a business from the damaging consequences of incorrectly serving an allergen to a person who tells them they have food allergy.”

Add more colour to keep your brain sharp

A new study has found that people who eat at least half a serving per day of foods high in flavonoids like strawberries, oranges, capsicums and apples may have a lower risk of cognitive decline. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in brightly-coloured fruits and vegies that are considered to have powerful antioxidant effects.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that people who had high levels of flavonoids in their diets – around 600mg a day – had 20 percent less risk of cognitive decline than people who ate only 150mg a day. As an example, strawberries have about 180mg of flavonoids per 100g, while apples have about 113mg per 100g.

Researchers also looked at individual flavonoids. Flavones, found in some spices and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, had the strongest protective qualities and were associated with a 38 percent reduction in risk of cognitive decline, which is the equivalent of being three to four years younger in age. Capsicums have about 5mg of flavones per 100g. Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, blackberries, cherries and plums, were associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of cognitive decline. Blueberries have about 164mg of anthocyanins per 100g serving. The Queen Garnet plum – which was developed in Queensland – contains up to 272mg of anthocyanins per 100g serve.