Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fat heads: obesity and technology

Obesity? I personally blame JK Rowling, encouraging all of those chubby little teenage girls to spend hours reading those big, fat tombs of books in the quiet of their own bedrooms. Then there’s the endless, overlong movies, where they sit on their fat butts munching popcorn and slurping coke. Can’t they get out and play or take up a sport? I’m convinced there’s a strong correlation between Harry Potter fanatics and fatness. Show me a fat girl and I’ll show you a reader! Show me a book group and I’ll show you a room full of overweight bods. Now, I’m sure your indignation has been aroused by this rant, but this is the sort of argument that the middle-class, mumsy brigade pull out all of the time when blaming technology for obesity.

I had a weird experience recently when a few members of my audience (all teachers) harangued me over the problem of obesity, caused they claimed, by being online and playing computer games. This is a common comment (rarely a question) at talks I give, and curiously it often comes from people who, for want of a better phrase, are more than just a little bit cuddly themselves. Unfortunately, putting the rap for obesity on technology is all too easy. So let’s chew the fat a little.

Padded out problem
Sure prosperity has led to an increase in obesity, but let’s keep this in proportion. We come across our first problem with definitions of obesity, which are confusing, especially among children. There’s a difference in the literature between being ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ and compounding the two leads to exaggeration. The definitions themselves are variable, complicated by gender differences, growth patterns, doubts over BMI measurements and so on. The whole filed is dogged by a lack of comparative standards.

Interestingly, in looking at the research in this area you do come across some rather wild claims about causality. Suppose a study does show a correlation between obese children and the amount of time they spend online. The causality may be complex. Fat kids may have low social skills, low self-esteem and may use online activity as a way of avoiding ridicule. On the internet nobody knows your weight. In other words internet activity may be caused by obesity, not the other way round.

Evidence
So where’s the evidence that computer activity causes obesity, as opposed to genes, reading, listening to the radio, watching TV, reading newspapers, sitting at a desk at work, sitting in class at school, commuting by train, driving or the most obvious candidate – stuffing your face? Answer – there is none.

In fact, there is neither correlation nor causation. The ‘digital divide’ people tell us that technology is not being used by the lower socio-economic orders, but these are precisely the people who suffer most from obesity. If there was a correlation between obesity and the use of technology things would surely be reversed.

Most of the activity in this area is just noise by people who know little about either obesity or internet usage. Anti-technology moralisers isolating the variable they love to hate.

Computer games and obesity
Playing computer games is not as sedentary as most think. With modern input devices, the Wii, Guitar hero and other games have led to a surge in active, physical gaming. The Wii is the best selling fixed console worldwide and five out of the top ten games in the chart this week are active sports games: Wii Sports Resort (1), Wii Sports (3), Wii Fit (5), EA Sports Active (8), Wii Play (10). It’s a convenient scapegoat for the luddites to blame the medium they hate most. It used to be radio, then TV, now it’s the internet and computers. In fact, given the direct link between obesity and sugar-rich, junk food, it seems likely that TV, where most such advertising takes place, is far more dangerous than being online. Indeed, computer games are now being used to combat ageing, cognitive problems and obesity, with positive results.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Willow said...

Eating less and exercising more does NOT reduce obesity and millions of overweight people know from experience that it doesn't.

People who are overweight/fat/obese are sensitive to salt, which for them can result in sodium and water retention and therefore, obviously, weight gain. This in turn can result in calcium deficiency, which causes fat retention. Reducing salt intake reduces both the fluid retention and the fat retention. - Reducing calories does not address the fluid retention problem at all and that is the explanation for the fact that diets don't work.

Prescription drugs, including many steroids, many antidepressants, anti-psychotics and epilepsy drugs, as well as other pharmaceuticals, are a major cause of fluid retention/obesity/salt sensitivity and especially of morbid obesity. - Avoid taking prescription drugs unless they are absolutely necessary.

Try to forget you ever heard of calories! - The safe, effective way to lose excess weight is to cut down on salt/sodium and salty food. - Why not try it?

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9:26 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I've had lots of strange 'product' comments and wacky ideas on reucing obesity, most of which are too commercial or wierd to publish. Most claim that eating and exercise have nothing to do with losing weight. This one.however, sounded interesting.

All in all it confirmed my view that the whole field is a mess of contradictory opinions, and little in the way of good science.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever been to a big HR conference? It's like attending the annula conference of weightwatchers. HR and training is full of rolly pollies. It must be all of those high fat and carbohydrate lunches, biscuits and Foxes Glacier mints. They never stop stuffing their faces.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Rina said...

Beautiful! Well I am absolutely discoinnected these days as I have no access to net, imagine in the capital no broad band at some localities!And I will tell you if I shed the weight or pile on kilos.

5:40 AM  

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