HEALTHY LIVING
02/12/2014 10:17 am ET | Updated Feb 12, 2014

TV, Computer Ownership Linked With Obesity And Diabetes In Low-Income Countries

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Owning TVs, computers and cars is associated with obesity and diabetes rates, at least in lower- and middle-income countries, a new study suggests.

Specifically, in low-income countries, the prevalence of obesity increased to 14.5 percent and prevalence of diabetes increased to 11.7 percent with ownership of all three devices, compared to 3.4 percent obesity prevalence and 4.7 percent diabetes prevalence without ownership of these devices.

However, the researchers did not find an association between ownership of the devices and obesity and diabetes in high-income countries. They noted that this could be because the impact these devices have on obesity and diabetes might have already occurred, considering obesity and diabetes are already at high levels in high-income countries.

"The inability to detect an association in high income countries likely reflects the homogeneity of device ownership (over 80 percent of participants in the high income countries reported owning all three devices; only 3 percent owned all three in the low income countries)," the researchers wrote in the study. "Our findings may also be the result of a plateau effect of exposure to household devices (i.e., the negative effect of owning such devices has already occurred and is represented in the high prevalence of obesity and diabetes in these countries)."

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, included data on TV, computer and car ownership, diabetes, physical activity, sedentary time, diet and height/weight of 153,996 adults from 17 different countries. The countries were grouped based on income: high-income (such as Sweden and the United Arab Emirates), upper-middle income (such as Brazil and South Africa), lower-middle income (such as China and Iran), and low-income (such as India and Pakistan).

TVs were the most-owned device -- owned by 78 percent of the 107,599 households included in the study -- while computers were owned by 34 percent of households and cars were owned by 32 percent of households.

Ownership of all three devices wasn't only associated with obesity and diabetes in the low-income countries -- researchers also found that it was linked with an increase in waist size of nine centimeters, a 21 percent increase in sitting, and a 31 percent decrease in physical activity.

"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," study researcher Dr. Scott Lear, of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, said in a statement. "This can lead to potentially devastating societal health care consequences in these countries."

Estimates released late last year by the International Diabetes Federation showed that 8.4 percent of adults around the world has diabetes, and that around 175 million people with the condition have not even been diagnosed (with most of those undiagnosed living in low- and middle-income countries), Reuters reported.

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