Summary of Talk:
Despite its decisive role in human development and progress, technological progress in the past decades has been accused of contributing to the world’s most challenging problems, everything from environmental crises such as global warming and pollution, to various health issues as a result of technology-driven changes in lifestyle. Since vast disparity exists in the world today in the mode of technological adoption and the level of technological advancement, countries with varied degrees of economic development often face distinct technology-related challenges to health. This dissertation focuses on two emerging concerns of this kind – rising obesity rates in developing countries and an imminent epidemic of Internet overuse in developed countries. The South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu undergoes fast but uneven economic development and health transition in recent decades, posing as a suitable site to study obesogenic effects of CE (consumer electronics) adoption. Survey on five islands revealed higher levels of CE adoption and higher prevalence of obesity on more economically developed islands; and increased risk for obesity (measured by common anthropometric indices) with ownership of cellphones, music players, televisions, video players, microwaves and/or refrigerators. Connections between CE adoption and obesity risk were further complicated by gender and island of residence. With a high Internet penetration rate and a great reliance on Internet services, the United States increasingly faces a public health threat of Internet overuse, entailing growing interests to explore its genetic basis and connections with other disorders. Genetic and survey analyses based on a US college population revealed a female-specific association between Internet overuse and the dopamine receptor D4 4-repeat variant – a protective allele for addiction. Bayesian analysis also demonstrated a lack of shared genetic contributions between Internet overuse and addiction; and suggested that genetic-linked harm-avoidance predisposes individuals for Internet overuse. These research indicate a shift of adverse health effects of technology adoption towards developing countries, and a growing understanding of newly emerged health issues related to technology use in developed countries. Targeted efforts in prevention and intervention are imperative to avoid and contain the health costs associated with technological progress.
Cheng Sun, is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Duke Kunshan University Global Health Research Center since June 2016. He received his MS in Biomedical Anthropology, MA in Anthropology and PhD in Anthropology (concentration: Biological Anthropology) from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He has conducted and participated in health-related research projects in the United States, Republic of Vanuatu, and the Republic of Palau. His main research interests are rising risks for non-communicable diseases and psychological disorders as a result of fast modernization and lifestyle changes, as well as Darwinian medicine and human evolution.