Do video games drive obesity?

Summary: Study contradicts the popular assumption that video gaming is associated with an increased risk of obesity in children and teenagers. However, researchers did find a small correlation between obesity and adult gamers.

Source: University of Würzburg

A chubby teen lolling on the sofa for hours on end, the game controller in one hand, a bag of crisps at his side and a bottle of coke on the coffee table. This is the mental picture many people have of the typical gamer. Along with this goes the widespread notion that frequent gaming contributes to obesity. Is this justified?

“The study contradicts this stereotype for children and teenagers. In adults, there is a slight positive correlation between playing video games and body mass,” explains Professor Markus Appel, a communication psychologist at the University of Würzburg. Researchers from the University of Würzburg (Markus Appel, Caroline Marker) and from the Johannes Kepler University Linz and the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg (Professor Timo Gnambs) conducted a meta-analysis comprising a total of 20 relevant studies with more than 38,000 participants. However, the analysis revealed only a small correlation between video game playing and excess weight or body mass. Only one percent of a person’s overweight can thus be attributed to time spent playing computer games.

No link in children and teenagers

The link was only established for adults but not for children and teenagers. “It may be that people who are overweight are more likely to continue their hobby of playing video games during the transition to adulthood whereas new leisure time activities become more important for others,” Appel suggests.

This shows a gaming controller

The link was only established for adults but not for children and teenagers. “It may be that people who are overweight are more likely to continue their hobby of playing video games during the transition to adulthood whereas new leisure time activities become more important for others,” Appel suggests. The image is in the public domain.

In the past, the link between gaming and overweight has already been studied by several researchers. “Overweight and obesity are usually associated with sedentary media consumption such as watching television or playing non-active video games,” the team of researchers writes in its current study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine. The new meta-analysis was launched because the individual studies yielded different results.

Less time exercising

How can the correlation be explained? “We identified a significant indirect effect which shows that people who spend more time playing video games also spend less time exercising and therefore weigh more or have more body mass,” the team from Würzburg and Linz writes. Other factors such as eating junk food while gaming or lack of sleep were not verified because there were not enough relevant studies available.

The scientists considered only sedentary video games in their current analysis – i.e. games that are played in a sitting position. Active video games such as Wii Sports or Pokémon Go, which require the players to move, were not taken into consideration.

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
University of Würzburg
Media Contacts:
Dr. Markus Appel – University of Würzburg
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Exploring the myth of the chubby gamer: A meta-analysis of studies on sedentary video gaming and body mass”. Caroline Marker, Timo Gnambs, Markus Appel.
Social Science and Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.05.030

Abstract

Exploring the myth of the chubby gamer: A meta-analysis of studies on sedentary video gaming and body mass

Rationale.
High body mass and obesity are frequently linked to the use of sedentary media, like television (TV) or non-active video games. Empirical evidence regarding video gaming, however, has been mixed, and theoretical considerations explaining a relationship between general screen time and body mass may not generalize to non-active video gaming.

Objective
The current meta-analysis had two main goals. First, we wanted to provide an estimate of the average effect size of the relationship between sedentary video gaming and body mass. In doing so we acknowledged several context variables to gauge the stability of the average effect. Second, to provide additional evidence on processes, we tested the displacement effect of physical activity by video gaming time with the help of a meta-analytic structural equation model (MASEM).

Method
Published and unpublished studies were identified through keyword searches in different databases and references in relevant reports were inspected for further studies. We present a random-effects, three-level meta-analysis based on 20 studies (total N = 38,097) with 32 effect sizes.

Results
The analyses revealed a small positive relationship between non-active video game use and body mass, , 95% CI [0.03, 0.14], indicating that they shared less than 1% in variance. The studies showed significant heterogeneity, Q (31) = 593.03, p < .001, I2 = 95.13. Moderator analyses revealed that the relationship was more pronounced for adults, , 95% CI [0.04, 0.40], as compared to adolescents, , 95% CI [-0.21, 0.23], or children, , 95% CI [-0.07, 0.25]. MASEM found little evidence for a displacement of physical activity through time spent on video gaming.Conclusion
These results do not corroborate the assumption of a strong link between video gaming and body mass as respective associations are small and primarily observed among adults.

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