For men aged 18 to 25, eating poorly and gaining weight can be a big problem that affects the rest of their lives.
“Young adulthood is a critical time to start eating well,” University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute researcher Lee Ashton said.
The problem is, many young people feast on junk food at this age.
“This age group is the life-stage when the greatest amount of body weight is gained, especially for young men,” Dr Ashton said.
Men gained, on average, 8 kilograms to 11 kilograms from the ages of 20 to 30.
“Worryingly, research has shown strong associations between weight gained during early adulthood and adverse longer-term health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers,” he said.
“But despite all of this, there isn’t much available out there to help young men.”
Dr Ashton wondered whether weight-loss programs were “not engaging or appealing to this group”.
He sought to turn this problem around. For his PhD, he developed the HEYMAN healthy lifestyle program for young men to help improve eating habits, activity levels, mental health and body weight.
“We found the best way to encourage guys to eat healthier food was to provide personalised nutrition feedback and advice, followed by setting manageable goals that were specific to them.”
Given the pilot program’s success, it is planned to be expanded.
Dr Ashton’s research led the Australian Academy of Science to select him as one of “eight rising stars of Australian science” to attend a meeting in Germany next month.
He said it would be a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet and engage with the world’s leading scientists and researchers”.
The scientists will present their medical research to Nobel laureates and their colleagues, exchange ideas and share experiences.
Dr Ashton knows his area of interest is ripe for more research.
“In Australia, 98 per cent of young men fail to consume adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables daily, while junk foods account for about a third of their total energy intake,” he said.
Changes such as leaving home, starting university, beginning a job and being unemployed can affect eating and exercise habits.
A poor diet during young adulthood is likely to continue or worsen into middle age and older years.
Making positive changes to diet while men were young could help avoid problems related to obesity, lifestyle-related disease and mortality.
Through his work, Dr Ashton hopes to encourage manageable changes to help steer young people towards better health practices that will give them long-term benefits as they age.