After Hours

Do video games really make you fat, depressed?

The headline du jour is that the average gamer is 35, depressed, and fat. Larry Dignan explains why the reality may be a bit more nuanced.

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Larry on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

The headline du jour is that the average gamer is 35, depressed and fat. The reality may be a bit more nuanced.

MSNBC runs with a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Andrews University. That trio analyzed survey data from 552 adults in the Seattle area. The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined whether gamers were indeed fatter as measured by the body mass index.

While the MSNBC story covered the basics, it's worth reading the full study. Was there a causal relationship between video games and being overweight and depressed? What other factors were considered? For instance, a gamer who ate his fruits and veggies while playing may be better off than the guy woofing down cheeseburgers.

Let's roll the complete study (release, full study pdf, associated article). The last paragraph of the study puts things in proper context:

Although the findings of this study help illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing, several caveats should be acknowledged. Because this study uses a cross-sectional design, conclusions about causality cannot be made. The fact that the sample was drawn from a population concentrated in western Washington State and from an Internet-based panel may limit generalizability of the results. However, the data reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of videogame playing and highlight avenues for future research.

Other observations:

Video game players are indeed more overweight, but non-players aren't exactly buff. Players in the study had a BMI of 28.05 and non-players had a BMI of 26.55. For the record, both categories are overweight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 makes you overweight. Anything above 30 is obese. If you lift weights and are athletic you're likely to be annoyed with the BMI -- you're going to be listed as overweight. According to this study, I'd be better off playing video games all day to get my BMI down since my score tops the gamers. A 6 foot person who weighs 160 would be considered normal weight. Calculate your own BMI score. There's a chicken and egg between social support and video games. Does a lack of social support lead to video game playing or vice versa? The report states:

Significant differences between video-game players and nonplayers are evident within both domains of personal determinants. Video-game players reported more depression, lower extraversion, and greater psychoticism than nonplayers. Differences are also evident for three of the five measures in the health-assessment domain: Videogame players reported lower health status, a higher frequency of poor-mental-health days, and higher BMI. Significant differences between video-game players and nonplayers within both domains of environmental determinants are also evident. Video-game players reported that they received less social support from family members and friends and that they perceived the Internet community as a positive social support. Video-game players also estimated that they spent more time using both the Internet and TV.

Here are the full results:

Click the image to enlarge.
Women self-medicate with video games. The report notes:

Distinct differences in the health correlates of female and male video-game players are also evident. Female video-game players reported greater depression and lower health status than female nonplayers; male videogame players reported higher BMI than male nonplayers. One interpretation of these findings is that, among women, video-game playing may be a form of "digital self-medication."

The main takeaway is that this study is just a starter set for more inquiry. More research is needed, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that video games could be lumped in with junk food and other sins as the nanny state looks to get people to take better care of themselves.

33 comments
Edwartfruitman
Edwartfruitman

I would like to keep it simple. When video games cause addiction, they become a source of depression to whatever who is addict. The reason is not actually the video games themselves, but the main reason is that the most people would be doing nothing in practical lives and hence cursed by the others. Otherwise, I have recommended the most people to play games to treat depression particularly when they are very depressed. http://southshoretms.com/

Cyberjester
Cyberjester

Chicken and egg, what came first? Were people more depressed beforehand, and turned to gaming as a way of escaping? Like so many people say that's all gaming is? The study showed a correlation, for a group of 500 people. It didn't show a cause. Keep that it mind?

Grey Defender
Grey Defender

LOL ,NO it all depends to PEOPLE... video games are innocent and fat ppl ARE NOT.umm and please don't post such senseless topics again. i bet poster of this topic has a very bad relationship with his\her son.so his\her son would rather to play video games than going out with him\her. i recommend her\him to play video games more than his\her son and tell me if he\she's gonna be depressed or fat..deal? i'm a bodybuilder..so Muscles vs. fatness

yoceb
yoceb

Im a engineering, i teach at the university, im slim, and the people loves staying with me. but.... I love videogames. All the the people know, and they dont believe in this stuff, this study its merely a small fgraction that not shows a well fit to the reallity.

jacklbrt
jacklbrt

Do people actually get paid to generate such worthless data ? Of all the people in the bloody world that play video games 550 individuals supply the necessary information to make such conclusions. And on top of that MSNBC sees fit to actually consider it newsworthy. Amazing.

timothyscott333
timothyscott333

Wow, and I really wanted to buy that new Batman game...

coderancher
coderancher

Based on the study, physical health is not the main concern for video gaming. None of the averages of the health determinants between gamers and non-gamers were statistically significant (p < 0.10). The only factors that were significant (p < 0.05) fell in the social support and self perception categories. The p value is the probability that the difference between the averages of two groups can arise by random chance. Generally, only p < 0.05 is considered statistically significant.

jkameleon
jkameleon

On a personal note: Fragging creatures and stuff is the only thing that prevents me from dying of boredom during programming.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I'll be 52 in a few weeks, not fat at all, and not depressed at all either. I build my own PCs mostly so I can make sure I can play the latest games. I have a Steam account with lots of content, I have all the Tomb Raider series, etc.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Eating too much and not taking exercise made you fat. I was shocked.

Toretto84
Toretto84

It must be true, because video games are the source of all evil... Right?

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

No interactive social life, no physical activity and eating cheetos and caffeine filled high calorie drinks till 3 am will make you unhealthy. All of these are possible video gaming side effects, but the same could be said of watching movies or reading books. I'm in above average shape for my age and I play the occasional game, though not often and not for extended periods of time. Being healthy is a direct result of your emotional well being, what you eat, when you eat it and your physical workout/activity regime. Last I checked there was absolutely zero calories in a box of Call of Duty, Far Cry 2 or any other game. Like any other hobby including reading, television or whatever too much is a bad thing. It absorbs too much of your time making you eat unhealthily or interferes with your emotional well being by cutting you off from the rest of the world for too long. No, conversing with your WoW buddies does not count as healthy human interaction.

Wild Card
Wild Card

I threw the controller at the floor every time I was told the princess was in another castle. After six broken controllers, I was convinced there was no princess. Then Legend of Zelda came out. What's this? Save the princess. Oh no, not falling for that again. Video games made me aware of the big picture out there. We are all trying to find that princess, but she doesn't exist and she never will.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Do know I gotta have physical activity or I'm miserable.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

If there is a single worse indicator for health, I'd like to know what it is. LeBron James (Overweight), Brock Lesnar (Obese--I'd pay money to see someone from the CDC call Lesnar a fat slob to his face), Anderson Silva (overweight at normal weight, high-normal at 185 cut), Mike Tyson (Overweight at championship fighting weight) and just about any healthy person in the NFL (Urlacher, Briggs, Cutler from the Bears alone, for example) prove this to be phoney-baloney. A study citing BMI as a health measure is automatically round-receptacle filed, as far as I'm concerned.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I asked 10 random people sitting around me. 6 play Video games regularly. Of the 6, 1 is overweight Of the 6, zero consider themselves depressed 12 people play video games once in awhile, maybe once a month. 11 are overweight (12th is my father, who, though looks pregnant, is still skinny and BMI makes him out to be normal) 6 say they never play video games, 4 are overweight. So my averages directly contradict their results.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

The average U.S. family had 2.3 children. Does that mean that my brother, Paul, is a 0.3 child?

CG IT
CG IT

So what, the govt is going to make mfgs put product warnings on the packaging indicating that playing video games may increase weight? Or is it the marketing people wanting to know who are the video game players, whether their overweight and then pitch Nutri-System or Jenny Craig in the game? What's with the analogy of video games to anti-depressents? Next the marketing people will be advertising Zoloft for video gamers. To bad there aren't more vocal people about inane surveys like Dudley Moore's character Emory Leeson in Crazy People [1990].

CG IT
CG IT

our government funds at work [or maybe EA funds at work] :)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Until this little factoid is incorporated into BMI figures, BMI is misleading at worst, and meaningless at best.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Lost 15lbs of fat, toned up considerably and gained it back in a good way. According to BMI, I am still in the same shape which is ludicrous. My shape, health and the way I feel has changed drastically. Even my clothes fit differently, yet my height and weight were the same at that point.

jck
jck

I'm healthy then! I like the way you think, ChiGuy lol :^0

apattillo
apattillo

Studies show that the average person has one breast and one testicle.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

Most video games require you to be sedentary, with the exception of many Wii games and a few others (but at that point, why not just play real sports?). Playing too many video games will lead to being overweight and depressed because you won't have enough physical activity of social activity. The idea of studying this is inane. It's like "Warning, alcohol consumption may lead to drunkenness" It all goes back age-old saying "All things in moderation". Ironically, there is true freedom in self-control.

wbranch
wbranch

Please, do NOT give them any ideas. You'd be lucky if they'd stop at warning labels. Next it'll be the 'gamer tax', because y'know, we're going to be a burden on the healthcare system. Then it'll be video game quit hotlines and treatment centers. Don't worry, if the CDC gets a hold of stuff like this, they'll declare video games a public health threat and try to take them away, like guns, doughnuts, cake, fried foods and anything else that people might enjoy. Of course, we gamers are all just looking to shoot up our classmates and co-workers anyway, so maybe they'll leave us alone out of fear...

maecuff
maecuff

Being sedentary, not eating right and having no meaningful relationships or direction in life make you fat and depressed. Or, it's the video games.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

If you see it on The History Channel, a government funded survey or wikipedia the survey has to be true! In hindsight I don't know what I was thinking disputing such claims. Silly me! :)

wbranch
wbranch

Exactly. A much, much better indicator is body fat %, but I guess that actually requires equipment, whereas BMI is just a multiplication table rip-off you can hang on a wall. Most people have a good idea if they are at a healthy weight or not. Plus you could have a perfectly fine BMI, look thin and have arteries that are as clogged as rush-hour traffic.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I have little doubt that BMI came about as some way for some government minion to justify a pay raise, let alone keeping his position from getting axed. I keep waiting for the government mandate to cut down on births, since the mortality rate for people born is 100%. It's a friggin' epidemic! ARGH!!!

sserwe
sserwe

I guess I'm abnormal

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

Actually, BMI was developed by a Belgian who was working on statistical analysis of populations between 1830 and 1850. Its current use as a statistical measure has been called into question and has many in the medical field arguing for a better measure to replace it. And it is completely useless as a measure for an individual.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Still no breasts though, so what does that do to the average?

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