By Joshua Sherman
Developing countries may face a surge in diabetes cases as technology becomes more available, a new study suggests.
“The overall impetus for the pure study was to basically look at the causes of chronic diseases,” said Dr. Scott Lear, the study’s lead researcher.
According to the study, which was published on Tuesday and headed by McMaster University, there was a 400 per cent increase in the rate of obesity among computer, car, and television owners in low-income countries.
For the same population, there was a 250 per cent increase in diabetes cases.
“As we went down to the upper-middle, lower-middle, and then low-income countries, the trend started to become apparent,” said Lear, who is a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in B.C.
Low-income countries surveyed included Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe.
In high-income countries such as Canada, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates, the results differed.
“The high income countries had higher amounts of obesity than the other countries, but there was no association with the household devices,” Lear said. “That’s one of the unexpected findings.”
One reason is that high-income countries’ populations have been using the technology for a longer period of time.
“Our obesity rates and diabetes rates are already reflecting our exposure to these (technologies), whereas in the low income countries we’re actually witnessing their uptake of these devices,” he added. “For lack of a better term, (in high-income countries) the damage is already done.”
According to the study, automobiles, computers, and televisions have negative effects on health because they encourage people to sit for prolonged periods of time.
“Biologically what is happening when you sit for a long time the enzyme that uses and breaks down fat and sugar for energy starts to slow down, so you get this build up of fat and sugar in the blood,” said Lear.
Additionally, Lear pointed to the phenomenon of “distracted eating,” which he said is more likely to occur when someone is watching television.
Lear said people are less mindful of how much they are eating when they are distracted by television.
The study’s findings are based on data on 153,996 adults ages 35-70 from 17 low, middle, and high-income countries.
But technology can also be used to promote health, Lear said, noting developing countries use mobile phones to deliver public health messages.
“It’s interesting we (Canadians) don’t use mobile phones for healthcare here, but that could easily be done,” he said.
Dean of Humber’s health sciences program, Jason Powell, agrees more could be done to promote health in Canada.
Powell acknowledged the success of campaigns targeting smoking and promoting seatbelt use, but said, “there’s a long way to go” as far as promoting physical activity.
“I’m not sure that people are as aware that sitting for long periods of time can adversely affect their health,” he said.
“We don’t necessarily function at our best when we’re sitting for long periods of times. Our bodies aren’t designed for that.”
Rather than abandoning televisions and computers, Powell recommends using technology responsibly.
“I think anything in life is sort of beneficial as long as you are doing it in moderation,” he said, adding, “there’s no debate, we need to be active.”