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Cars, computers, TVs spark obesity in developing countries

The spread of obesity and type-2 diabetes could become epidemic in low-income countries, as more individuals are able to own higher priced items such as TVs, computers and cars.

The findings of an international study, led by Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Scott Lear, are published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Lear headed an international research team that analyzed data on more than 150,000 adults from 17 countries, ranging from high and middle income to low-income nations.

Researchers, who questioned participants about ownership as well as physical activity and diet, found a 400 per cent increase in obesity and a 250 per cent increase in diabetes among owners of these items in low-income countries.

The study also showed that owning all three devices was associated with a 31 per cent decrease in physical activity, 21 per cent increase in sitting and a 9 cm increase in waist size compared with those who owned no devices.

Comparatively, researchers found no association in high-income countries, suggesting that the effects of owning items linked to sedimentary lifestyles has already occurred, and is reflected in current high rates of these conditions.

"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," says Lear, who also holds the SFU Pfizer/Heart & Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul's Hospital.

The results can lead to "potentially devastating societal health care consequences" in these countries, Lear adds. Rates of increase of obesity and diabetes are expected to rise as low- and middle-income countries develop and become more industrialized.

Lear is a principal investigator in another ongoing obesity study focusing on 4,000 children in Canada and India. He is also leading studies on internet-based chronic illness management, and supervising an SFU doctoral study on improving the heart health of South Asian women.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

Scott Lear,, (in Ontario this week but will reply to emails)

Marianne Meadahl, 604.209.5770,


Marianne Meadahl | EurekAlert!
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