Five-year-olds who play video games three hours or more a day are more likely to be overweight as teenagers – and late at night and sweet drinks are also to blame, claims the study
- A study of more than 16,000 children looked at what influenced weight gain
- Finding those who play a lot of video games are more likely to be fat teenagers
- Also found late sleep and sugary drinks are associated with increased BMI
Parents who let their children play many video games register the child for weight gain a decade later, a study has revealed.
More than 16,000 children were tracked from ages five to 14 and scientists assessed the relationship between video games and weight.
The results showed that children who regularly played video games at the age of five had a higher BMI nine years later, compared to those who did not play video games.
Drinking sugary drinks and irregular bedtime also have a significant impact on children, the study found, and some can be blamed for weight changes.
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The study revealed that children who regularly played video games at the age of five had a higher BMI nine years later, compared to those who did not play video games (stock photos)
The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, is the first to look at the potential effects of using video games on children’s BMI over time.
The scientists used the BMI metric specifically designed to measure obesity levels while adjusting the growth rates of children who differed with age.
The range of BMI-SDS considered healthy from ages five to 20 is between minus two and one, while the risk of being overweight is defined as one to two.
Children five years old who play video games three hours or more per day have a BMI-SDS associated 0.085 higher at age 14 compared to children who do not play games.
Lead author Dr Rebecca Beeken, from the University of Leeds, said: ‘Child obesity is one of the biggest public health threats facing the country, with more than one third of children in the UK leaving primary school due to being overweight or obese.
‘This research shows a potential relationship between playing games in children and the possibility of higher weight gain in the following years.
‘It also shows that consuming drinks sweetened with sugar and sleeping at irregular times may be partly responsible for the associated weight gain.
While the effect sizes across groups are relatively small, for some children playing games can represent a significant risk of weight gain.
“However, we need to remember obesity is complex, and this is potentially only one small piece of the puzzle.”
Drinking sugary drinks and irregular bedtime also have a significant impact on children, the study found, and some can be blamed for weight changes, but the use of video games sees the strongest link (stock)
The researchers point out brands such as Red Bull, Coca Cola, Boost and Monster are some of the many beverage companies that encourage gamers to buy and consume drinks sweetened with sugar that can cause weight gain.
This is valid because there are no restrictions to advertise these items through video games, unlike on TV.
Dr Beeken said: “There is recognition that adverts for sweet drinks for children must be tightly controlled on television, but advertisements in video games have not been considered at the same level.
“More stringent advertising laws are needed to protect young gamers from being encouraged to drink large quantities of unhealthy products, which we know can have ongoing health consequences.”
The effect remains even when calculating the amount of time other screens exposed to children, such as watching television.
PhD researcher William Goodman, who carried out research from University College London, said: “We certainly don’t recommend that gamers or their parents should throw their consoles out the window.
“But we think it’s important to realize that some gamers can run the risk of gaining weight, and there are steps we can take to minimize this risk.
‘One option is to encourage parents to use inbuilt parental settings on game consoles to set a time limit on how long children can play.
Another option is to work collaboratively with game developers to embed components of behavior change in games to encourage positive behavior change.
“There is no way forward without engaging with the gaming community in the next possible step.”
The findings are published in JAMA Pediatric Journal.
WHY HAVE INTERNET GAMING CLASSIFIED AS A MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER?
WHO classifies internet games as official mental health disorders
The World Health Organization has classified playing video games on the internet as an official mental health disorder.
‘Game disruption’ is defined as’ the pattern of the game’s behavior which is characterized by a disruption of control over the game, an increase in the priority given to the game rather than other activities insofar as the game takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or improvement of the game despite the occurrence of negative consequences. ‘
To be diagnosed with a game disorder, the individual must:
(1) Experiencing significant disturbances in the areas of personal, family, social, educational, work or other important functions
(2) Have experienced a decline in this value for at least 12 months
WHO advises gamers to be careful about how much time they spend playing, especially if it is to rule out other daily activities.
They must also be aware of changes in physical and psychological health as well as social functions that can be associated with play.