Technology; what a wonderful, and rapidly evolving, thing in our lives. Who doesn’t love technology? Over the last century, technology has changed rapidly, making multiple facets of our life “easier;” but, is this “easier” also making us lazier and ultimately less active, increasing the rate of obesity?
In 2001, Pediatrics Journal published a study examining children, preteens, and teenagers, and how technology has impacted four areas of their well-being, including physical health. As one may suspect, technology has shown to have a negative impact on the physical well-being of adolescence, which, in turn, increases the rate of obesity as these children become adults.
Let’s start with a form of technology everyone knows, and nearly every household has television. Evidence has been shown that an increased amount of television watched at 2.5 and 4.5 years of age correlated with an increased BMI at the age of 10, secondary to increased eating and inadequate physical activity. In a study done in Australia, researchers found that preschoolers who watched more television had an increased BMI, which was mediated by both the lack of physical activities and consuming more food calories while actively watching television.
A study performed in 2012 showed that increased television, video game, and computer use among American teens predicted higher levels of obesity. There are recommendations for decreasing the amount of television and computer time among children and adolescents in order to increase physical activity and avoid obesity. Supplementing the time spent watching television for picking up a new hobby, or even cutting screen time in half can have a positive impact on obesity rates. An option that I often give my patients is to invest
in an exercise bike that can be put in front of the television. While watching a television show, one can slow peddle during the show, and increase the speed during the commercials.
Another form of technology that has significantly impacted the last century, as well as significantly impacted our physical activity, is the automobile. A century ago the common gasoline-powered car was a relatively new invention quickly gaining popularity. According to government statistics, there are approximately 250 million registered vehicles currently on the road in the United States. The invention of the automobile, although quite convenient, cause a significant decline in physical activity, as people were no longer walking, cycling, or riding horseback.
Driving has become a routine part of our life and has ultimately erased the inclination of using alternatives for commuting and transportation. The Children’s Active Transportation book, published in 2018, discussed how active transportation, including walking and cycling, contributes significantly to greater physical activity levels in children and youth. Along with increased physical activity, improvement in physical health outcomes; including, cardiorespiratory fitness, weight status, and cardiac risk factors, were also evaluated.
And last, although definitely not least, one of the most rapidly evolving pieces of technology, the telephone. The telephone has evolved significantly since its induction into our daily lives, and with its evolution has come a floundering level of physical activity. Just simply walking 10-20 feet to the house phone hanging on the wall, or sitting on the kitchen counter, has been exchanged for a device that is able to easily fit into our pockets.
This may seem like a minute example, but not only has it made walking to the phone obsolete, but today, many phones are now smartphones, and allow children and adults to perform many actions, which were once activity provoking, without moving from the couch. Simply placing your phone across the room can increase one’s physical activity in a slight yet significant way.
Obviously, many aspects of technology have had a positive impact on our daily lives. This blog is not done to persuade others to give up their phones or sell their television, and it’s definitely not mean to talk others into trashing their cars. This blog is meant to help others recognize a few ways technology can decrease our physical activity leading to increased levels of obesity in children and adults.
Instead of watching television on the couch, trying putting a stationary bike in front of the screen. Instead of driving to and from work every day, try walking or riding a bicycle to work one or two days a week to save money on gas and increase physical health. Instead of sitting at home with your phone in your pocket, put your phone in another room and decrease your screen time in exchange for an alternative activity. By relying less on some forms of technology, we can increase our physical activity and improve our overall health while decreasing rates of obesity.
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Norwood, P., Eberth, B., Farrar, S., Anable, J., Ludbrook, A. (2014). Active Travel Intervention and Physical Activity Behavior: An Evaluation. Social Science and Medicine, 113. Pp. 50-58. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953614002901
Number of motor vehicles registered in the United States from 1990 to 2017. Statistica (2019). Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/183505/number-of-vehicles-in-the-united-states-since-1990/
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Uzoma, K. (2019) How Much TV Does the Average Child Watch Each Day? Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/46320-obesity-children-technology/
Voss, C. (2018). Public Health Benefits of Active Transportation. Children’s Active Transportation. Pp. 1 20. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128119310000016