TVs, cars, computers linked to obesity in poor nations

In low-income countries, people with cars, televisions and computers at home are far more likely to be obese than people with no such conveniences, researchers said on Monday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: TED CHEN
In low-income countries, people with cars, televisions and computers at home are far more likely to be obese than people with no such conveniences, researchers said on Monday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: TED CHEN

WASHINGTON (AFP) - In low-income countries, people with cars, televisions and computers at home are far more likely to be obese than people with no such conveniences, researchers said on Monday.

Eating more, sitting still and missing out on exercise by driving are all likely reasons why people with these modern-day luxuries could be gaining weight and putting themselves at risk for diabetes, researchers said.

The findings in the Canadian Medical Journal suggest extra caution is needed to prevent health dangers in nations that are adopting a Western lifestyle.

"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," said lead author Scott Lear of Simon Fraser University. "This can lead to potentially devastating societal health care consequences in these countries."

The same relationship did not exist in developed nations, suggesting the harmful effects of these devices on health are already reflected in the high obesity and diabetes rates.

The study included nearly 154,000 adults from 17 countries across the income spectrum, from the United States (US), Canada and Sweden to China, Iran, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Televisions were the most common electronic device in developing countries - 78 per cent of households had one - followed by 34 per cent that owned a computer and 32 per cent with a car.

Just 4 per cent of people in low-income countries had all three, compared to 83 per cent of people in high-income countries.

Those that did have electronics were fatter and less active than those that did not.

People with all three were almost a third less active, sat 20 per cent more of the time and had a 9cm increase in waist circumference, compared to those that owned none of the devices.

The obesity prevalence in developing countries rose from 3.4 per cent among those that owned no devices to 14.5 per cent for those that owned all three.

In Canada, about 25 per cent of the population is obese and in the US, about 35 per cent of people are obese.

"Our findings emphasise the importance of limiting the amount of time spent using household devices, reducing sedentary behaviour and encouraging physical activity in the prevention of obesity and diabetes," said the study.