The classic chicken and egg puzzle asks what came first, the chicken or the egg? We can also ask that about diets.  A so-called Western diet, though it now seems to be worldwide, has high-calorie, high-sugar and high-sodium content and has been nicknamed the 'cafeteria diet' after buffet-style restaurants, has been linked to a lifetime of health problems, dramatically increasing the risk of stroke or death at a younger age.

But do people adopt the diet as they get fatter or does the diet make them fat?  One thing you won't find in a Hometown Buffet are a lot of skinny people but the restaurant didn't make them fat, eating too much did.  Once they are a certain size, all-you-can-eat restaurants are cost-effective ways to get the calories, but they also bring with them the problems.

A study presented today at the Canadian Stroke Congress says that, regardless of the chicken and egg status of obesity and cafeteria diets, a combination of high levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and obesity in rats after only two months, roughly equivalent to 16 to 22 years in humans at the time of disease onset, according to lead researcher Dr. Dale Corbett, scientific director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery. 

Researchers gave sedentary rats unlimited access to both nutritional food pellets and a daily selection of common junk food items including cookies, sausage and cupcakes. Animals were also given access to both water and a 30 per cent sucrose solution designed to imitate soft drinks. Like humans, the animals greatly preferred to consume the treats.

"I think we'll soon start to see people in their 30s or 40s having strokes, having dementia, because of this junk food diet," speculates  Corbett. "Young people will have major, major problems much earlier in life."

Corbett highlights the importance of preventing metabolic syndrome with regular exercise and a balanced diet. "We're not sure whether metabolic syndrome can be reversed. If it can't, and we continue to live and eat like this, then we're each a ticking time bomb of health problems."

 "Laboratory models often use relatively young animals who are healthier and on better diets than we are," says Dr. Corbett. "However, it is important to remember that for many people, the consequences would be even worse, since a lot of people with stroke also have pre-existing health problems."