This chapter, "Children, Video Games and Obesity," aims to examine the relationship between children playing video games and obesity. With obesity now being perceived as a threat comparable to smoking, drinking, and poverty, researchers are examining the detrimental impacts of video games on the younger population. This chapter will investigate those impacts along with the potential benefits of video games and the positive outlook it may have in the future.
The term "child" has evolved in recent years. In previous generations, the term "child" could be represented as teenager or adolescent, or young people in general. Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, wrote about a new phenomenon that he refers to as, "adultolescence." He described this new phenomenon as the tendency to delay adulthood and retain a youth mindset. With the imergence of this new definition, it is clear that the term "child" has a much broader definition including those who are in there "adultolescene." Several case studies clearly suggest that this phenomenon of "adultolescence" is prevalent in playing video games. Although this chapter mainly focuses on the direct relationship between video games and obesity, our research will not limit the scope of the study to conventional defintions of the term "children." We will look into a larger age group that possibly could include young adults, or those people who are in their "adultolescence."
It is easy to see a relationship between obesity and video games. If a child is addicted to video games, he's unlikely to get a sufficient amount of exercise. This lack of exercise will result in the failure to burn the necessary amount of calories to maintain his body weight. This will then convert the excess calories into fat which can lead to obesity. The prominence of video games has led to an increase in the number of overweight children in the United States. In the United States, one out of every three kids is either overweight or obese. Out of that 33% of children, 17% meet the qualification of obesity.
A study by the Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and the California Pacific Medical Center found that the average child today spends 45 hours a week with television, movies, magazines, music, the Internet, cellphones, and video games. The study analyzed seven different long term negative health effects including: attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), obesity, low academic achievement, tobacco use, drug use, alcohol use, and sexual behavior. The strongest connection was between screen-time and childhood obesity.
The statistics suggest that there may be a positive correlation between playing video games and child obesity is plausible.
Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on a child’s health.
- Obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease.
- Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes that can lead into type 2 diabetes.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, asthma, and sleep apnea.
- Obese children and adolescents are at a greater risk of social and psychological problems including stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to stay obese throughout their adulthood. This puts them at risk for adult health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.
There are definitely some potential benefits to video games. For instance, public schools across the nation are using the iPad as teaching tool. Various applications for games, like Jeopardy, can help teach students new material in captivating ways. Some other benefits include:
- Video games can help children who are ill or injured. Some hospitals encourage children to play video games while undergoing painful treatments to distract them from pain and discomfort.
- A professor at Nottingham University wrote in a medical journal that playing games could help children with attention disorders.
- Some video games are known to improve hand-eye co-ordination.
- Some games induce decision making skills and develop critical thinking.
Positive Outlook on Video GamesEdit
Nintendo's Wii Fit, Microsoft's XBox Kinect and Sony's PlayStation MoveEdit
Major video game companies such as Nintendo and Microsoft, are aware of the potential relationship between obesity and playing video games. They are introducing a variety of games and devices that alleviate the risk of obesity while playing video games.
On December 1, 2007, Nintendo introduced Wii Fit, a video game that requires the user to exercise while playing the game. Upon release, Wii Fit quickly became popular among gamers, and this success quickly forced Nintendo's competitors, such as Microsoft and Sony, to introduce similar gaming devices.
On June 2, 2010, Sony introduced the PlayStation Move, a motion sensing controller that is used in game playing. The movement of this handheld device is captured by PlayStation Camera and allows interface between the game and the user.
On November 4, 2010, Microsoft introduced XBox KINECT, a motion sensing input device for the XBOX 360 video game console. This device detects the movement of the gamer, which allows users to play games with their body movements.
All of these devices have been hugely successful; Wii Fit is currently the third best-selling console in history with 22.61 million copies sold as of May, 2010. Microsoft has sold 10 million copies of XBox Kinect as of March 9, 2011 and Sony sold 8.8 million copies of PlayStation Move as of June 2011.
Effectiveness of Active Video Games (AVGs)Edit
The release of Wii Fit and XBox Kinect has ushered in a new era of video games: Active Video Games (AVGs). AVGs, also known as "exergames," combines exercise and video games. The effectiveness of AVGs was studied by researchers at Michigan State University. The research involved 354 participants and focused on the heart rate, oxygen consumption and energy expenditure of each participant. Researchers concluded that "the effects of playing AVGs did not differ significantly between children and adults in terms of HR (Heart Rate) and VO2 (Volume of Oxygen Consumption). However, children yielded larger effects than adults in terms of [energy expenditure]." Thus, the implementation of these AVGs could be more effective to children who play video games.
In March 2011, Rebecca Christie, 28, was sentenced to 25-years in prison for second degree murder and child abuse charges. She allowed her three-year-old daughter, Brandi Wulf, to die of malnutrition and dehydration while she was occupied with chatting and playing World of Warcraft. This case study shows how the new phenomenon of “adultolescence” can be present with video games.
In August 2011, Chris Staniforth reportedly played the game "Halo" on his XBox for 12 consecutive hours. As a result he suffered from a deep vein thrombosis. The night before his death, Chris called a friend because he was experiencing some complications. His friend stated, "He said his heart rate had been incredibly low but it went back to normal and he fell asleep again." The following morning Chris and his friend were searching for jobs when Chris "dropped a packet of chewing gum and as he picked it up, he jolted back and began to spasm." His friend called the medics, but it was too late. The deep vein thrombosis, that caused Chris' death, was triggered by sitting in one position for long periods of time. A coroner said his death was caused by a clot formed in his left calf that eventually reached his lungs. Once it reached his lungs, it caused a fatal blockage. Professor Brian Colven, an expert on blood-related conditions, stated to newspapers, "There's anxiety about obesity and children not doing anything other than looking at computer screens.”
The statistics and case studies suggest a positive correlation between playing video games and obesity. The relationship between playing video games and obesity is plausible, but there may not be direct causation between the two. Other factors such as lifestyle, diet, hours of exercising, sleep cycles, and etc. can explain obesity. Although playing video games does not directly result in obesity, it may be a contributing factor. Studies suggest that as hours spent playing video games increases, the chance of obesity also increases. The introduction of various gaming devices including Wii Fit, XBox KINECT and PlayStation MOVE may offset the potential risk of obesity caused by playing games.
- CDC. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html
- Schwimmer, J.B., Burwinkle, T.M and Varni, J.W. (2003). Health-Related Quality of Life of Severely Obese Children and Adolescents, JAMA 289: 1813-1819.
- CDC. (2011). National diabetes fact sheet: national estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- CDC. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/basics.html
- Rudon, T. (2010). 10 Benefits of Video Games. Retrieved from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/10_Benefits_Of_Video_Games.html
- John M. Grohol. (2011). Can Wii Fit or Xbox Kinect Exergames Actually Help You Burn Calories? http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/11/29/can-wii-fit-or-xbox-kinect-exergames-actually-help-you-burn-calories/