Review published in Advances in Nutrition finds frequent internet use associated with increased odds of being overweight or obese.
The internet has become part of our lives: the number of active internet users is estimated to be more than 4 billion globally. While the internet has streamlined and facilitated innumerable activities, some research indicates that excessive internet use can lead to overweight and obesity. On the other hand, the overall results of studies investigating the association between internet use and the likelihood of being overweight or obese have been inconsistent.
Published in Advances in Nutrition, “Internet Use in Relation to Overweight and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cross-Sectional Studies” examines the current body of evidence on the association between internet use and the odds of being overweight or obese. In order to perform their research, the authors of this scientific review conducted a systematic search of the scientific literature, leading them to nine cross-sectional studies that met their criteria. Combined, these nine studies represented 38,537 participants from the United States, Canada, China, Turkey, and several European countries.
“findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis indicated that internet use was positively associated with increased odds of being overweight and obese.”Authors of the Study
According to the authors, “findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis indicated that internet use was positively associated with increased odds of being overweight and obese.” In particular, the most frequent internet users had 47% greater odds of being overweight or obese when compared to the most infrequent internet users. Interestingly, one study reported a significant positive association between internet use and overweight among boys, but not girls.
On the surface, it would seem obvious that frequent internet use is associated with a sedentary lifestyle and, therefore, is a risk factor for overweight and obesity. While this is true, the authors noted that there are other poorly understood underlying mechanisms through which internet use may influence body weight. For example, they pointed to studies that indicated excessive internet use adversely influences nutritional behaviors such as skipping meals (especially breakfast) and high snack consumption. Moreover, other studies linked internet overuse with psychological disorders such as neuroticism, anxiety and depression, all of which can affect weight control. Further studies clarifying these mechanisms are needed.
All the studies examined in this review were cross-sectional studies, meaning that data was collected from participants at only one specific point in time. Cohort studies in which data is collected from participants periodically over time can provide more conclusive evidence of causality. To date, however, there have been no major cohort studies conducted to study the link between internet use and weight. Given these limitations, the authors concluded, “it seems that heavy internet use is associated with higher odds of overweight and obesity. However, further studies, especially with prospective designs, are warranted to further elucidate any associations.”