Glowing Rectangle

Glowing Rectangles and Obesity in the South Pacific

With so many suspects for the cause of growing obesity prevalence, satisfying answers are rare. But new research from the State University of New York at Binghamton provides some fascinating insight on the possible contribution of consumer electronics – such as our glowing rectangles – to obesity risk. After controlling for demographics, diet, and activity, they found that a wide range of consumer electronics were linked to a higher risk of obesity.

The Republic of Vanuatu consists of 63 islands once known as the New Hebrides. Within the islands are varying degrees of economic development, but relatively consistent dietary patterns. With economic development, obesity rates are growing there. Health anthropologists from SUNY Binghamton first published research in 2013 on this natural experiment to identify behavioral risk factors for obesity related to the influence of economic development.

Early Learning Centre MicrowaveThis new research – a detailed investigation of consumer electronics ownership – found a higher risk of obesity linked to owning cell phones, music players, video players, and microwaves. The increased risk associated with each of these gadgets ranged from 73% to 170%.

Of course, interpreting these results requires caution because of the problem of residual confounding. People who own these devices may have other risk factors that also put them at higher risk of obesity. Factors like access to different foods or more sedentary occupations might be at work in parallel with owning consumer electronics.

Nonetheless, consumer electronics seem to play a role in declining physical activity previously documented in China during rapid urbanization. Our beloved gadgets may well be an important part of the obesity ecosystem.

Click here for the study from Vanuatu in the American Journal of Human Biology. Click here for a deeper exploration of the subject in the doctoral research of Cheng Sun.

Glowing Rectangle, photograph © Japanexperterna

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October 23, 2016

One Response to “Glowing Rectangles and Obesity in the South Pacific”

  1. October 23, 2016 at 6:35 am, James said:

    Back in the 1990s, I relied on a publication called Weighing the Options. In it, one of the predictive variables for maintaining weight loss was hours in front of the television. Interesting to see the effect of new devices not just on keeping it off but on weight gain. Not surprising – but good to have the research.