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Can Cars and TV Ownership Cause Obesity and Diabetes?

Feb 27, 2014

Owning a TV was associated with a 39% greater risk of obesity and a 33% increased risk of diabetes on average…

It is well known that the USA ranks among the highest in diabetes and obesity rates. Some of that can be contributed to our relatively sedentary lifestyle and reliance on automobiles to get from one place to another. Researchers set out to see if these disease states were as prevalent in other countries which may not be as developed and wealthy as the United States.


Researchers measured the volunteer’s height and weight which allowed them to determine the patient’s body mass index. They also asked them about their diet, activity level, and if they owned a television, car, or computer. What they found is that owning a TV was associated with a 39% greater risk of obesity and a 33% increased risk of diabetes, on average. In addition, people who owned cars were 15% more likely to be obese, on average. Ownership of these devices was linked with spending more time sitting, getting less physical activity, consuming more calories and having a higher body mass index. The poorer people were, the stronger the link between owning a TV or a car and the risk of developing these health problems.

When looking at the full sample of volunteers, there was no statistical link between owning a car or TV and the risk of obesity or diabetes for people that have always had those devices available to them. But when that technology was introduced for the first time to residents in low-income countries, it was found to be a risk factor for both diabetes and obesity. So the acquisition of the device made the biggest difference to the poorest people.

Though the statistical analysis showed a correlation between ownership of TVs and cars health risks tied to being sedentary, the study doesn’t prove that the devices caused obesity or diabetes. The research team concluded, "Exposure to household devices in the low income countries has only recently begun and, therefore, the negative effects of their ownership are more acute and may increase as ownership increases."

Practice Pearls:
  • In high income countries, the risk of diabetes and obesity was the same for everybody, no matter how many devices they owned
  • In low-income countries, the risk of obesity and diabetes jumped nearly three-fold when owning those devices (car, TV, and computer)
  • The study showed that living a sedentary lifestyle opposed to a healthy and active one increases your risk for diabetes and obesity

TVs, Cars May Spread Obesity and Diabetes to Poor Nations, Study Warns Canadian Medical Assn. Journal, Feb 2014