Step away from the extra slice of cake – or you will regret it later

Researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health have further linked middle-aged spread to health risks in later life

In the study, the first of its kind to systematically examine the association of weight gain from early to middle adulthood with major health risks later in life, researchers analysed health data from 118,140 study participants.

The researchers at the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health asked participants to recall their weight from early adulthood and to report their weight at age 55. On average women gained 22 pounds over early to middle adulthood while men gained 19 pounds.

They found those who gained a moderate amount of weight had an increased risk of major chronic diseases and premature death. They were less likely to score well on a healthy ageing assessment of physical and cognitive health when compared to those found those who kept their weight stable, gaining or losing no more than five pounds.

In a meta-analysis of study participants from the two cohorts, each 11 pounds of weight gained was associated with a 30 per cent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a 14 per cent increased risk of hypertension, an eight per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a six per cent increased risk of obesity-related cancer and 17 per cent decreased odds of achieving healthy ageing.

But there is also good news according to the School, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It says improving your diet, in line with the Mediterranean diet, will have positive effects.

Diets that emphasise eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean protein (limiting unhealthy fat, sodium, sugar-sweetened and processed foods and red meat) boosts heart health.

Small shifts in daily diet were shown to have benefits. For example, according to the researchers, swapping one serving of red meat a day for a serving of nuts or beans would lead to a 20 per cent improvement in diet quality. And just eating more fruits and vegetables – going from no daily servings to four servings of fruit or five servings of vegetables – raised the scores by 10 per cent.

Other changes that can make a difference include cutting out sugar-sweetened drinks, consuming one less alcoholic drink a day and eating more foods high in healthy fat, such as olive oil and avocado.

So, for a healthy older age, say yes to carrots and no to carrot cake.