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Is technology behind the rise in childhood obesity?

Making Connections

That TV might be bad for you is not a new sentiment. People have been blaming it for various ills (eye problems, stupidity) for decades. But this appears to be something different -- something larger. Linking technology with childhood obesity seems to question whether the overall direction we're taking as a society is leading to health problems that begin so early, they're starting to seem ingrained.

It's a dark thought.

And it's one that calls for clarification: Which types of technology are we talking about here? Certainly not pacemakers, airplanes and artificial limbs. "Technology" in many forms is almost inarguably positive.

The technologies that many believe are contributing to childhood obesity are the ones that encourage people to be still. For hours. Or days. They're the ones that have all but replaced games of neighborhood tag -- things like texting, watching television, surfing the Web and playing video games.

It's tough not to see the connection. When kids in the '70s got bored, it was "go outside and run around" or, um, nothing. With so many in-home, non-active options available now, many kids don't bother to go outside, and lots of parents are so busy they just don't have time to schedule active play or drive their kids to soccer practice across town. So we're left with a lot of elementary, middle and high school kids spending most of their after-school time on the couch.

There's no arguing with the physical results of a largely sedentary, "technology"-heavy lifestyle, and some research backs up the common logic with science. A 2004 study of 872 Swiss children found that for each hour spent regularly watching TV or playing video games, a child's obesity risk doubled.

The connection is there, and that kids (and adults) would be healthier if they spent more time moving and less time sitting is simple fact. But it may not be as simple as video games equal obesity. In fact, a more recent study found that the games aren't even the issue -- that it's really just TV shows. And yet another study found it's not TV, but video games.

And then, too, going back to the Swiss study, there were other factors involved in the results, including mom working outside the home and dad being a smoker.

So the link, while undeniable, may not be cut-and-dry. What's the other side of the technology-obesity debate?