Feb. 10--Warning: Owning a television may be hazardous to your health. Ditto for
owning a car, though not quite as much. And the less money you have, the more
dangerous the devices become, according to a new study.
In the United States, Canada and other wealthy countries, increasingly sedentary
lifestyles are blamed for contributing to the rise in obesity and Type 2
diabetes. Instead of walking to school, we take the car. Instead of working on
our feet, we sit at our desks. Instead of preparing our own meals, we hit the
drive-through on our way home.
Researchers set out to see whether these patterns were repeated in countries
where TVs, cars and computers were not yet ubiquitous. They analyzed data from
the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological Study, or PURE, which tracks 153,996
people in 17 countries that represent a range of economic conditions. At one end
of the spectrum are residents of Canada, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates; at
the other are citizens of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Researchers visited study participants in their homes, in mobile clinics and in
community centers. Among other things, they measured the volunteers' height and
weight, allowing them to determine their body mass index. They asked them about
their diet and their physical activity. They also asked whether they owned a
television, car and computer.
The researchers found that 83% of all households owned a television, though that
was more common in rich countries (where more than 97% of homes had a TV) than
in poor ones (where only 44% of rural households had one). In addition, about
30% of all households had a car, and 30% had a computer (again, these were more
common in rich countries).
Overall, owning a TV was associated with a 39% greater risk of obesity and a 33%
increased risk of diabetes, on average. In addition, people who owned cars were
15% more likely to be obese, on average. Ownership of these devices was linked
with spending more time sitting, getting less physical activity, consuming more
calories and having a higher body mass index. The poorer people were, the
stronger the link between owning a TV or a car and the risk of developing these
In the full sample of volunteers, there was no statistical link between owning a
car and the risk of diabetes, or between owning a computer and the risk of
either obesity or diabetes. But when residents of low-income countries were
considered on their own, owning any of the devices was a risk factor for obesity
and diabetes, the research team found.
Compared to owning none of the three modern devices, owning one was linked with
a 43% increased risk of obesity and a 38% increased risk of diabetes. Owning two
device raised the obesity risk to 58% and the diabetes risk to 43%.
Once again, the acquisition of a device made the biggest difference to the
poorest people, the researchers discovered. In low-income countries, the risk of
obesity jumped from 3.4% for people who owned no devices to 14.5% for people who
owned all three. Similarly, the risk of diabetes rose from 4.7% for those with
no devices to 11.7% for those with all three. Meanwhile, in high-income
countries, the risk of obesity and diabetes was basically the same for everyone,
no matter how many devices they owned.
Though the statistical analysis showed a correlation between ownership of TVs
and cars health risks tied to being sedentary, the study doesn't prove that the
devices caused obesity or diabetes. Still, it doesn't seem far-fetched to
believe that as more countries come closer to the U.S. standard of living, they
will pay for it with U.S. levels of these chronic conditions.
"Exposure to household devices in the low income countries has only recently
begun and, therefore, the negative effects of their ownership are more acute and
may increase as ownership increases," the research team concluded.
Their report was published online Monday in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal.
If you're interested in the latest scientific and medical studies, you like the
things I write about. Follow me on Twitter and "like" Los Angeles Times Science
& Health on Facebook.
(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services