For the millions of parents who worry about the extra pounds their child might pile on while playing video games all day, rest easy.
A new study suggests that video game-loving kids aren't any heavier than those who aren't into the gaming scene.
Significant health problems
Childhood obesity affects an estimated 13.7 million children and adolescents in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But researchers from Germany challenge the notion that gaming is fuelling the epidemic.
Excess weight gain in kids has a slew of causes: high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and beverages, lack of physical activity, medication use, sleep routines and sedentary activities. However, the study found that video games can't be counted as one of those causes.
"Given our results, it is likely that the energy intake [food and drinks] and their energy expenditure [including non-sedentary activities] are not closely related to playing games," said researcher Markus Appel, from the University of Würzburg.
Childhood obesity can lead to significant health problems like type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnoea and psychological stress. Obesity-related conditions are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
Children need to stay active
Changing eating habits and activity levels are some of the best ways to prevent obesity. Jason Bruck, a nurse anaesthetist at Mount Sinai West in New York City, shared some advice for parents.
"Make sure your children stay active," Bruck said. "Prepare meals ahead of time, provide healthy snacks. A lot of small details can influence your child's health."
The research, involving 20 studies with more than 38 000 participants, also revealed that the image of the overweight gamer lolling on the couch with a controller, potato chips and a bottle of soda may be more applicable to adults. Appel and his colleagues noticed a small correlation for video game playing and excess weight among adults.
A possible explanation for the correlation is indirect: Those who spend more time playing video games are likely to spend less time exercising, thus weighing more. The prevalence of adult obesity in the United States is a staggering 39.8%.
TV a bigger culprit
In the past, the relationship between video games and obesity has been studied. Other forms of sedentary media consumption, such as watching television, have shown a strong link to weight gain.
"TV use is more reliably related to body mass in kids and adolescents," Appel said.
He offered a reason for this link. "There are more ads for high-calorie food and drinks on TV than in games," Appel said.
The study was published online recently in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
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