MONDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Most teens who play video
games don't fall into unhealthy behaviors, but an "addicted"
minority may be more likely to smoke, use drugs, fight or become
depressed, a new Yale University study suggests.
The findings add to the large and often conflicting body of
research on the effects of gaming on children, particularly its
link to aggressive behavior. However, this study focused on the
association of gaming with specific health behaviors, and is one of
the first to examine problem gaming.
"The study suggests that, in and of itself, gaming does not appear to be dangerous to kids," said study author Rani Desai, an associate professor of psychiatry and public health at the Yale University School of Medicine. "We found virtually no association between gaming and negative health behaviors, particularly in boys."
"However, a small but not insignificant proportion of kids find themselves unable to control their gaming," she said. "That's cause for concern because that inability is associated with a lot of other problem behaviors."
The study was published Nov. 15 in the online edition of
Using data from an anonymous survey of more than 4,000 public
high school students in Connecticut, taken from a separate Yale
study published in 2008, the Yale team analyzed the prevalence of
teen gaming in general, "problematic gaming," and the health
behaviors associated with both.
Problem gaming was characterized as having three main symptoms:
Trying and failing to cut back on play, feeling an irresistible
urge to play, and experiencing tension that only play could
How many hours teens actually spent thumbing their game consoles
wasn't included in the definition of problem gaming, Desai noted.
"Frequency is not a determining factor," she said. While problem
gamers may in fact spend more hours at play, the hallmark of
problem gaming is the inability to resist the impulse, she
Half the teens reported playing video games -- 76 percent of
boys and over 29 percent of girls. Most of them (61 percent)
reported gaming less than seven hours a week, while about 11
percent reported spending 20 or more hours a week at play.
Among boys, gaming itself wasn't associated with unhealthy
behaviors. In fact, boys who played video games typically reported
a higher grade average, were significantly less likely to smoke,
and were more likely to say that they'd never used alcohol or
marijuana, the study found. According to Desai, the fact that
gaming in boys was linked to healthier behaviors may mean that for
boys, it's normal to play video games.
Girl gamers, however, were more likely than girls who didn't
play video games to get into serious fights or carry a weapon to
school. "This finding may suggest not that gaming leads to
aggression but that more aggressive girls are attracted to gaming,"
Both boy and girl gamers were likely to drink caffeinated
beverages, including energy drinks, the study found. But girls
drank more of them -- three or more per day, compared to boys' one
to two servings a day.
Most teens who played video games reported none of the symptoms
of problem gaming. However, 5 percent reported all three main
symptoms. In this small minority, boys were more likely to report
these symptoms (5.8 percent vs. 3 percent in girls), which the
study associated with a higher risk of smoking, drug use,
depression and fighting.
"This study shows that, for the vast majority of children, video games are pretty harmless," said Christopher J. Ferguson, an assistant professor of clinical and forensic psychology at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. However, the findings also suggest, "that problem gaming may be part of a constellation of unhealthy behaviors," added Ferguson, who has studied the link between video games and aggression.
He was quick to point out, however, that the new study does not
show that gaming
causes these other problems.
Still, "if a child can't turn off the games after a reasonable
amount of time, isn't doing homework, isn't socializing with other
kids -- all [of that] can be signs of a problem that may need to be
addressed," Ferguson said.
There's more on electronic media's impact on children at the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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