Volume 38 - Article 4 | Pages 109–126

Digital divide and body size disparities among Chinese adults

By Chih-Chien Huang, Scott Yabiku

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Date received:03 May 2017
Date published:09 Jan 2018
Word count:6276
Keywords:body mass index, China, digital divide, internet/television access, obesity, technological transition


Background: The rapid development of information and communication technology (ICT) in China has increased people’s sedentary behavior and raised a number of related issues. ICT screen-viewing activities are increasingly considered to contribute to obesity, and sociodemographic characteristics such as gender, income, age, education, and geographical location seem to magnify the digital divide.

Objective: This study first examines dissimilar stages of ICT transition, and then establishes how ICT screen-viewing activities relate to the Chinese obesity epidemic. Finally, this study assesses whether unequal access to digital resources and technology by geographic location and gender reinforces existing obesity disparities in China.

Methods: This study uses longitudinal data drawn from 10,616 households and 17,377 person-years of those aged 18–55 who participated in the 2006, 2009, and 2011 China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). Fixed effect linear regression models capture the link between ICT screen-viewing activities and body mass index (BMI).

Results: The results show that while between 91.37% and 96.70% of individuals had access to televisions during 2006–2011, there is a significant disparity in terms of Internet activity by gender and geographical location. The results show that Internet use could decrease a rural women’s BMI by .87 kg/m2, while playing computer games could increase a rural man’s BMI by .42 kg/m2.

Contribution: This study highlights that unequal access to digital resources and technology might reinforce existing obesity disparities in China.

Author's Affiliation

Chih-Chien Huang - Saint Anselm College, United States of America [Email]
Scott Yabiku - Pennsylvania State University, United States of America [Email]

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