Hugh Hefner suffered stroke
Hugh Hefner suffered from a stroke in 1985 at the age of 59 - years below the average

The number of people suffering from strokes at a younger age is increasing, experts have warned.

The average age of stroke victims has gone down and more people under the age of 55 are having strokes, said neurological scientists after a study in the US.

Research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that the average age people suffered from strokes in 1993 was 71. In 2005, the average age had fallen to 69.

Study author Brett Kissela, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, said underlying illnesses such as diabetes and obesity were contributing factors.

He said: "The reasons for this trend could be a rise in risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

"Other factors, such as improved diagnosis through the increased use of MRI imaging may also be contributing. Regardless, the rising trend found in our study is of great concern for public health because strokes in younger people translate to greater lifetime disability."

As well as finding a lower mean age for strokes, the study also found there was a greater occurrence of stroke victims under the age of 55, increasing from 13 per cent from 1993-94 to 19 per cent in 2005.

In the UK, about 150,000 people suffer a stroke every year - one person every five minutes.

Kissela said: "The good news is that some of the possible contributing factors to these strokes can be modified with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. However, given the increase in stroke among those younger than 55, younger adults should see a doctor regularly to monitor their overall health and risk for stroke and heart disease."

This research follows another study into strokes, which suggested more people will start having strokes in their 30s and 40s because of their fat and sugar-rich diets.

The study, by the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery, found that the "cafeteria diet" of Westerners dramatically increases the risk of stroke or death at a younger age.

Researchers gave rats unlimited access to nutritional foods, as well as a selection of junk food items such as cookies, sausages and cupcakes. Like humans, the rats showed a preference for the junk food. After two months, the animals had high levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, obesity and high blood pressure.

Lead researcher Dr Dale Corbett said: "We'll soon start to see people in their 30s or 40s having strokes, having dementia, because of this junk food diet. Young people will have major problems much earlier in life.

"We cannot afford to continue making poor nutritional choices. Our diet is killing us."