Does Broadband Lead to a Broad Waist?

In late August, the Milken Institute issued a provocative study, Waistlines of the World – The Effect of Information and Communications Technology on Obesity. This report looked at 27 OECD countries between the period of 1988-2009 and the impact of knowledge-based society on obesity rates in those countries. The growth of these rates are a serious concern, as overweight and obesity together are the fifth leading cause of death worldwide, according to the report’s citation of World Health Organization statistics.

The report suggests that,

“For every 10 percentage point increase in the share of ICT spending, obesity rates will significantly rise by 1 percentage point directly and 0.4 percentage point indirectly based on the impact of additional consumption of leisure ‘screen’ time.”

The U.S. has the highest rate of obesity, leaping from 23.3% to 33.8% from 1991 to 2008. In absolute numbers and percentage growth, China’s obesity rate is a huge concern as it more than doubled between 2002 and 2008 from 2.5 to 5.7 percent and the number of overweight people doubled from 1991 to 2006.

The report is loaded with statistics like the aforementioned, but one assumption that is a given in the report, is that, “Urbanization, in general, leads to a more sedentary lifestyle and hence weight gain.”  The implication is that urban areas will see higher obesity rates than will rural areas. While this may be true in developing countries, based on the study, it is not clear whether this is the case in already-urbanized countries, such as the United States.

Information and communication technology (ICT), as defined in the report, is somewhat expansive and includes,

“Information technology (IT), unified communications, telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), broadcast media, all types of audio and video processing and transmission, and network-based control and monitoring functions.”

The report suggests the world’s transition to a knowledge-based society has led to changes in work habits (less manual labor, more dual income families) and lifestyles (increasing urbanization, greater caloric intake, more screen time), which lead to obesity. Backing up their conclusions are complex econometric models, that are way beyond the intellectual firepower of this reporter, but common sense says more screen time leads to a bigger waistline.

More common sense is embodied in their citation of the “last hour” rule, which,

“basically states that when the enjoyment associated with technological advances increases in sedentary leisure, people will devote more time to sedentary entertainment at the margin.”

In other words, most people will kick-off their shoes and sit in front of a screen or screens at the end of the day instead of exercising.

Prescription for Change 

Spring Grove Fitness Center

Their prescription for change involves governmental and employer assistance to help make exercise part of everyday life; like it was prior to screen time. Again, more common sense, but they recommend policies and programs that reduce reliance on vehicle transportation and encourage walking, bike riding  and, of course, exercise programs.

Some 27 existing government and corporate programs from around the world are cited in their list. A concept of interest to telecommunications providers include their suggestion of a tighter coupling between health-care providers and people via things such as keeping track of biometric data. Another example a program that ties patients closer to health-care professionals is one started by a Ohio physician called “Walk with a Doc.”

Employee Fitness Program

Two programs that could be added to their list are from rural broadband operators. Spring Grove Communications, as seen in this 2010 interview, built a gym/library/community center, when it rebuilt its office; benefiting its employees, as well as the community at large. Arrowhead Electric has a simple program that rewards employees for starting and sticking to an exercise program. Both programs represent ways to help people proactively prevent broadband usage (and other screen time) from leading to a broad waistline.

0 thoughts on “Does Broadband Lead to a Broad Waist?

  1. Obesity is not an excess food problem. It’s a malnutrition problem. Along with the artificial sugars, preservatives, and processing that corporations have lobbied the FDA for, nutrition is removed from our food so, our body tells us that we have to eat more looking for the proper level of nutrition. This is not a broadband problem even if they did put the apple before the horse. This is a problem caused by excessive government.

  2. Really! A government problem? When do we become responsible for our own actions, body, child rearing, well-being etc. etc.?

    I understand your point but many people are planting their own gardens, buying the right kind of food and preparing it in a healthy way. Those people have taken responsibility for their own health, maybe the rest of us should follow.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I have to agree with Otter that this is a personal responsibility issue (I say that after eating two high caloric hotel food muffins this morning). The easy and tasty thing to do is to eat the pre-made food and kick back behind a screen at night. But the right thing to do is to eat the banana for breakfast and take a walk.

    Ben Franklin had an interesting “conversation” with “Gout” in his autobiography (public domain – free). Gout pointed out how he could have ate less and walked more when he was younger (instead of relaxing playing chess in the evening – the screen of his day). Anyway, I suppose this is an age old problem; broadband just makes it easier to be sedentary as compared to years past.

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