The connection between obesity and the use of electronic devices

World obesity day happens every year on the 11th of October to raise awareness on this global issue. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity/overweight is an excessive fat accumulation presenting health risks.: diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other chronic diseases. In 2016, around 650 million people above 18 years old were obese and from 1975 to 2016, the number of obese people worldwide tripled.

Some risk factors for obesity are:

Genes inherited from parents: they influence the way our bodies store fat.

Lifestyle: the amount of exercise and the way we eat influence weight gain/loss.

Ageing: as we age, we tend to adopt a less active lifestyle and go through hormonal changes. Both are linked with gaining weight.

Economic and social issues: the lack of education and awareness regarding obesity can lead to risk behaviours.

Use of electronic devices: this one may be a surprise, but studies link electronic devices with obesity risk.

In recent years, we have become more sedentary and screen time (any time spent using electronic devices or watching television) has been increasing. We tend to prioritise our electronic devices over healthier habits. Our leisure-time activities are now related to technology, which made us less active and more likely to gain weight since they require almost no energy. This is a tendency that has been growing alongside the development of technology. Our work dynamic has also been changing. We witnessed the introduction of technology and electronic devices in the workplace in almost every field. A lot of jobs that before required physical strength can now be performed through technology. These changes are causes for weight gain as they decrease energy use.

A study from Rice University showed that switching between electronic devices can cause a lack of self-control and a greater predisposition for unhealthy food.  A part of the study consisted of measuring the brain activity of 72 participants while they switched between electronic devices and watched random images, which included unhealthy food photos. When these photos came up, the part of the brain related to food temptation was more active.

Richard Lopez, the study’s author, said that even if the results were introductory and not developed until the right extend, they should be taken into consideration since they show the connection between electronic devices switch and obesity.

Researches from the Simon Bolivar University (SBU) in Colombia showed that younger adults who use smartphones over five hours a day have a 43% risk of having obesity. Additionally, the researchers showed a link between smartphone use and not exercising, eating less healthy food and a higher BMI (index used to qualify someone as overweight or obese).These recent discoveries should warn us about the dangerous link between electronic devices abuse and obesity. This issue needs to be tackled, and it is mandatory to adopt strategies to prevent it. Here are some examples:

Campaigns to promote physical activities through electronic devices

Educate people about the dangers of no physical activity and the dangers of obesity

Fitness apps are also good ways to promote physical activities and track progress

Create and promote interactive video games and television programmes that encourage exercise

Workplaces, schools and, universities have an important responsibility in this matter since they should implement activities that prevent obesity and new ways to reduce the unnecessary use of electronic devices

Public spaces should also be transformed to promote exercise, through the creation of bike paths, free working machines, free exercises classes.

Measures like this must be implemented, as soon as possible, so that we assist a diminished connection between obesity and the use of technology.

References:

  1. Obesity and overweight, February 2018, World Health Organization
  2. Digital device overload linked to obesity risk, April 2019, Rice University
  3. Using a smartphone for this long could raise the risk of obesity, July 2019, Newsweek