Do video games cause obesity? A new study from McMaster University draws an unhealthy connection between video game play, sugary drink consumption, poor sleep and obesity in children and adolescents.
The study surveyed 125 children and youth between the ages of nine and 17 as part of a larger study on children’s sleep and physical activity at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. Researchers collected abdominal obesity measures at both the start and end of a six-week period, while the participants were given Fitbit devices to measure their physical activity. Sleep quality, sugary drink intake and video game playing times were recorded through self-reporting questionnaires.
The results showed that video game play during the four-hour window before bedtime was associated with greater abdominal adiposity (obesity). Links were also established between video game playing, obesity and both poor sleep quality and sugary drink consumption while playing video games.
Researchers describe their study as the first to draw these connections between video game play, childhood obesity and the mediating factors of poor sleep and sugary drinks.
Video game play linked to obesity. Anyone surprised?
“The findings suggest that video-gaming duration before bedtime is a key risk factor for abdominal adiposity as it is related to lower sleep quality of children and youth which in turn is associated with greater abdominal adiposity,” say the study’s authors, an international team with researchers in the United States, Australia and the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University.
The study found that while the majority of study participants (85.6 per cent) did play video games before bedtime, those who played for longer typically were found to have poorer sleep than those who played for shorter periods. As well, the poor sleepers tended to be more likely to consume sugary drinks while playing video games and be more prone to obesity than the good sleepers.
“The findings suggest that longer video-gaming sessions can be problematic as they are linked to a higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks while playing video games,” say the study’s authors. “This increased intake, in turn, further contributes to reduced sleep and ultimately to elevated abdominal adiposity.”
The sugary drink connection is troubling, say the authors, as many energy drinks, which themselves have been shown to be linked to reduced sleep and elevated obesity levels, are marketed to video game players, offering themselves up as a type of “fuel” for improving gaming success. Recent population-based studies indicate that the consumption of energy drinks is increasing for adolescents.
The researchers say that in order to stem the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, healthcare policies need to be aware of the link between energy drinks, sugary drinks and video game in children and youth, likely by creating interventions which target pre-bedtime video gaming. “These may include healthcare provider education of parents and children, development and enforcement of healthy family video-gaming use policies and the use of technical measures to block video-gaming use before bedtime,” say the researchers.
The new study was published in the journal Clinical Obesity.