3 Habits that Lead to Obesity

April Daniels Hussar,SELF magazine

Do you find yourself glued to the screen, whether it's your computer or TV? It could be packing on pounds.

Researchers at the Milken Institute (a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank) in California found a direct link between spikes in technology usage and increases in obesity rates in 27 countries between 1988 and 2009.

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Specifically, the increase in "screen time" was cited as a major factor, meaning time devoted to using computers, watching TV and playing video games.

"Technological innovations, more processed foods, a greater amount of 'screen time,' less exercise, and higher consumption of snack foods have all played a role," report co-author and economist Anusuya Chatterjee said in a news release. "These are all the adverse effects of a knowledge-based society."

To conduct the study, Milken researchers looked at the connection between a country's level of investment in communication technology (ICT) and the prevalence of obesity rates. They found that for every 10 percentage point increase in ICT investment, the obesity rate of that country climbs 1.4 percentage points, on average.

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"This is not surprising at all," Angela Ginn, registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells HealthySELF. "As individuals become more tech-sophisticated, their lives become more sedentary, and a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases."

Leading the pack in obesity? The United States. Thirty-three percent of Americans are obese, according to the Institute. So what can you do to stave off weight gain? Get moving! According to the Milken researchers, in those same countries with high ICT investment rates, a 1 percent increase in the number of physically active people can prevent a 0.2 percent rise in obesity in the population.

Here are some easy tips to cut down on your screen time today:

Stick with the shows you LOVE.
Ginn says you should limit yourself to one hour a day of your favorite show. Addicted to your Mad Men marathons? "Cut down screen time gradually each night," she advises.

Watch movies and shows at the gym.
What better incentive than to put the timer on 60 instead of 30 than the latest Ryan Gosling flick?

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Can't make it to the gym?
"Get moving while watching TV," says Ginn. "Try a hand bicycle or foot peddler."

Beware of mindless snacking!
Snacking in front of Modern Family and snacking at your desk while you work both add to the problem, says Ginn. "Avoid bringing snacks to the couch or your desk," she says. If you do need a snack, go for crunchy vegetables or air-popped popcorn, and limit your high-calorie treats to small snack bags once in a while.

Get up and away from the computer.
For people who work in front of a screen all day, getting moving can be a challenge, but you gotta do it. "Get up every 20 minutes to prevent the slowing down of your metabolism," says Ginn. "Move the other room, walk up and down a fight of stairs or go to the next cubicle to chat."

Do your social networking ... in person!
The next time you want to make contact with a local friend, make a date for a walk in the park instead of "liking" her latest photo. Face time and fresh air -- what a concept!

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