Weight Loss

What Role Do Smartphones Play In The Obesity Epidemic?

Mobile devices play a part in almost every aspect of our day. From looking up data, checking our emails and texts, playing games, reading the news, finding the weather outlook. . . it’s always within our grasp. There’s no question technology has changed our lives forever.

Multiple studies have shown these wonderful portable devices also increase the risk of becoming obese. A link has been identified between the number of hours spent on a smartphone and a higher BMI.

Mindlessly switching from your smartphone to other devices and back again might lead to added pounds, scientists say. A new study found that heavy-duty media multitaskers also tended to be heavier. It’s also possible that these devices are actually changing the brain, theorized lead author Richard Lopez, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Rice University in Houston. In terms of weight, that could mean less self-control when fattening foods are at hand. 

Lopez’s team had students who used smart devices excessively undergo an MRI brain scan while they were shown a serious of pictures. Images of delicious, fattening foods were mixed in with the images. When the food images were viewed, activity increased in the part of the brain linked to food temptation, the findings showed. These participants, who also tended to have more body fat, spent more time at campus cafeterias, the researchers said. In another study, researchers analyzed 1,060 students of the Health Sciences Faculty at the Simón Bolívar University from June-December 2018. The study group consisted of 700 women and 360 men, with an average age of 19 years and 20 years respectively.

Researchers found the risk of obesity increased by 43 percent if a smartphone was used five or more hours a day, as participating students were twice as likely to drink more sugary drinks, fast food, sweets, snacks and have decreased physical activity. 26 % of the subjects who were overweight and 4.6 % who were obese spent more than five hours using their device.

According to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, teens who spend many hours a day on smartphones, tablets or computers may be more likely to become obese than those who don’t spend as much time on these electronic devices. Out of nearly 25,000 U.S. teens followed during 2013-2015, 20% spent more than five hours a day in front of screens. These teens were twice as likely to drink a sugary drink each day and not get enough sleep or exercise- and were 43% more likely to be obese- compared with teens who spent less time using their devices.

“This study would suggest that limiting children’s and adolescent’s engagement with other screen devices may be just as important for health as limiting television time,” said co-lead author Erica Kennedy, research fellow at Harvard Chan School.

A team of NIH-funded researchers at Stanford University presented a large global study looking at activity data, as collected by Azumio’s Argus smartphone app. The data yielded interesting findings that could have implications for public health programs targeting obesity.

“The study is 1,000 times larger than any previous study on human movement,” Scott L. Delp, head researcher and the director of the Mobilize Center at Stanford University, said in a statement. “There have been wonderful health surveys done, but our new study provides data from more countries, many more subjects, and tracks people’s activity on an ongoing basis in their free-living environments versus a survey in which you rely on people to self-report their activity. This opens the door to new ways of doing science at a much larger scale than we have been able to do before”.

Specifically, the data set, which was collected starting in 2015, included a total of 68 million days of minute-by-minute step recordings from 717,527 anonymized Argus users. Residents of 111 countries participated, but researchers looked most closely at the 46 countries that had at least 1,000 users. Unsurprisingly, participation skewed heavily toward higher income countries, though about 10 percent of participants were from middle income countries. 

The main takeaway from the study was that it wasn’t the average activity of a country that correlated with its obesity rates, but the range of activity levels contained in that average. Countries where everyone reported similar levels of activity had much lower obesity rates than countries like the United States, which has a mix of very active and very sedentary users. In fact, the study group from the five countries with the greatest activity inequality were almost 200 percent more likely to be obese than those from the five countries with the lowest activity inequality.

Another finding about countries with high activity inequality was that it also broke down on gender lines, with women being generally less active than men. Zeroing in on the city level in the United States, there was a correlation between the walkability of a city and its activity equality – and that correlation was more pronounced among women.

Think about it, as of 2016 there were 7.9 billion smartphones on the planet, exceeding the number of people. The potential link between technology and obesity is ripe for exploration, as more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, with 650 million defined as obese, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that 9.3 million Americans or 39.8 percent of the adult population are obese.

Next time you’re looking at your smart device, think of it as a refrigerator. Every minute you keep it open is another potential calorie you’ll gain. Shut it down, put it in a drawer and walk away. You may be surprised at how that action alone makes a difference in your weight.








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