Claim: A viral infographic shared on WhatsApp has a claim that the World Health Organisation listed seven brain-damaging habits.
The infographic did not originate from the WHO and there is no research to show these habits directly affect the brain.
A viral infographic on WhatsApp has a claim tagged ‘7 biggest brain-damaging habits’. These habits were said to have been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
These habits were listed as; missing breakfast, sleeping late, high sugar consumption, more sleeping specifically in the morning, eating while watching the Television (TV) or computer, wearing a cap/scarf or socks while sleeping, and blocking or stopping urine.
The image which carries the logo of the WHO requests receivers to not just read but forward to as many people they care about.
Dubawa first observed some grammatical errors like the fourth habit identified as “more sleeping specially at morning” instead of “especially in the morning”. Dubawa also noted that the instruction after the listed seven habits also lacked basic spacing, improper use of capital and small letters and the use of shorthand (“u” in place of “You”).
This was a major red flag as such grammatical errors are usually not associated with a reputable international organisation like the WHO.
Dubawa went ahead to conduct a keyword search on brain-damaging habits which led to a report by Medicover hospital claiming the WHO has listed 10 brain-damaging.
This search also led to another report by Pharmiweb listing 7 brain-damaging habits to avoid similar to the one in the viral image.
Dubawa also reached out to the WHO. The organisation said that the message is unrelated to the organisation.
“The message has nothing to do with WHO and WHO does not endorse it,” WHO replied.
Having established this is a recirculated claim, Dubawa also tried to look at what brain damage is and how these habits individually lead to that.
Brain damage is said to occur when a person’s brain is injured due to traumatic injury(a fall or an accident) or nontraumatic injury (such as a stroke).
Brain damage is also seen as an injury that causes the destruction or deterioration of brain cells.
Types of brain damage
There are two types of brain damage; traumatic and non-traumatic/acquired brain damage.
NOTE: All traumatic brain injuries are head injuries but head injuries are not necessarily brain injuries.
-Traumatic Brain Injury: is caused by an external force like a blow to the head that causes the brain to move inside the skull or damages the skull. This in turn damages the brain.
-Non-Traumatic/Acquired Brain Injury: occurs at the cellular level. It is most often associated with pressure on the brain from a tumour or result from neurological illness like a stroke.
What causes brain damage?
Causes of traumatic brain injury include: car accidents, blows to the head, sports injuries, falls or accidents, gunshot won’t and physical violence.
Non-traumatic/acquired brain injury is caused by: poisoning or exposure to toxic substances, infection, strangulation, choking, or drowning, stroke, heart attacks, seizures, tumours, aneurysms, neurological illnesses, and abuse of illegal drugs.
Ways to prevent brain injuries
According to WebMD, things to avoid to prevent brain injuries include; never shake a child, install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows, install shock-absorbing material on playgrounds, wear helmets during sports or cycling, wear a Q-collar while playing contact sports, wear seatbelts in cars, and drive carefully, avoid falls by using a step stool when reaching for high items, install handrails on stairways, don’t keep guns (if you do, keep them unloaded and locked away), don’t use illegal drugs, drink alcohol only in moderation, and never drink and drive.
Claim 1: missing breakfast
A study on Chinese workers revealed that skipping breakfast or eating a low-quality breakfast have a negative effect on cognitive function but this does not imply brain damage.
Another study on children noted that although no statistically significant improvement was observed in task performance, significantly higher activation was recorded in the frontal, premotor, and primary visual cortex areas in the breakfast trial relative to the fasting condition.
These studies show some effects of skipping breakfast but none of it speaks to brain damage making the claim false.
Claim 2: sleeping late
An article by Healthline noted that sleep deprivation or sleeping less than the required seven to nine hours drains mental ability and has long term effects.
Also, another study reviewing different studies revealed that both short and long duration of sleep is significant predictors of death in prospective population studies.
This claim is false because although fewer sleep hours have been noted to have some negative effect on a person’s health, it does not lead to brain damage.
Claim 3: high sugar consumption
An article by Verywellmind notes sugar has drug-like effects in the reward centre of the brain and that sweet foods along with salty and fatty foods can produce addiction-like effects in the human brain which can lead to the loss of self-control, overeating, and subsequent weight gain.
A 2013 study showed consumption of a high glycemic index (GI) compared with a low-GI test meal increased the activity in brain regions related to food intake, reward, and craving in the late postprandial period, which was coincident with lower blood glucose and greater hunger.
Another study showed sweet foods can be more addictive than cocaine while a 2016 study showed researches that suggest high sugar consumption causes inflammation in the brain, leading to memory difficulties.
All of these studies did not however point to brain damage whihc makes this claim misleading.
Claim 4: more sleeping specifically in the morning
Healthline article on sleep and the required amount of sleep does not show any issue with what time of day an individual sleeps more as long as they are not sleep-deprived.
Claim 5: eating while watching the Television (TV) or computer
Healthsite.com advises against eating while watching TV because it distracts the brain and leads to eating more but this has nothing to do with brain damage.
Claim 6: wearing a cap/scarf or socks while sleeping leads to brain damage is brain damaging
The WHO spokesperson, Matt Taylor noted that there is no correlation between wearing socks or cap to sleep and brain damage.
“Wearing a cap, scarf or socks while you sleep DOES NOT cause brain damage.”
Excerpt of WHO’s response.
Also, this article by Healthline notes some benefits of sleeping with socks which is necessary for cold regions.
Claim 7: blocking or stopping urine is brain damaging
This article by medical news today notes while it is necessary to hold urine sometimes when this becomes a habit, it can cause pain, lead to Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), bladder stretching, damage pelvic floor muscles, and kidney stones.
Another article by MSD manuals also noted that urine blockage leads to kidney stone, infection, kidney damage, etc.
Brain-damaging habit claims in the infographic are false as our findings show this is a recirculated infographic, no data or research that links these habits directly to brain damage and the WHO has also denied it originated from them while noting the claims are not true.