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TVs, Computers Tied to Increased Obesity and Diabetes Rates in Developing Nations

Update Date: Feb 10, 2014 12:01 PM EST

Obesity, which is a disease caused by poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, tends to be more prevalent in developed nations. However, according to a new study, researchers found that TVs, computers and cars could cause increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in developing countries.

For this study, the international team of researchers examined data on 153,996 adults from 107,599 households across 17 countries. These nations were a part of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study. The countries were split into four groups, which were high income, upper-middle income, lower-middle income and low income. The participants were all asked about their physical activity levels, sitting time, diet, height and weight, and ownership of a TV, computer or car. They were also asked about whether or not they had type 2 diabetes.

The researchers reported that a TV was the most common type of item that households owned with 78 percent of households reported having at least one. 34 percent of all households had at least one computer and 32 percent of all households owned a car. The researchers found that ownership of these items appeared to affect obesity and type 2 diabetes rates in low-income countries, which were Bangladesh, Indian, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. The researchers found ownership was associated with a 31 percent reduction in physical activity levels, 21 percent increase in sitting time and a nine-centimeter increase in waist size.

"Although we found no trend between household devices ownership and obesity or diabetes in high income countries, there was a stronger relation as the level of country income decreased. This relation was most prominent in low income countries, such that the prevalence of obesity increased from 3.4% for no devices owned to 14.5% for 3 device...The prevalence of diabetes also increased (no devices: 4.7%; 3 devices: 11.7%)," the study's lead author, Dr. Scott Lear, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, and Division of Cardiology, Providence Health Care, Vancouver, British Columbia wrote.

The researchers reasoned that they did not find a relationship between owning these three devices and their effect on obesity and type 2 diabetes rates for higher income countries because the effect of these three devices might have already been reflected in these countries' overall obesity and type 2 diabetes rates. In this study, the high-income countries were Sweden and the United Arab Emirates. The upper-middle income countries included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, and Turkey. The lower-middle income nations were China, Columbia and Iran.

"With increasing uptake of modern-day conveniences - TVs, cars, computers - low and middle income countries could see the same obesity and diabetes rates as in high income countries that are the result of too much sitting, less physical activity and increased consumption of calories," stated Lear. "This can lead to potentially devastating societal health care consequences in these countries."

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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