Are Teen Gaming Addicts Physically Healthier?

By Shawn Dwyer 10/13/14

Contrary to popular belief, heavy gamers may be less obese than their peers. But they're also more depressed.

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A new study conducted by a doctoral student has shown that teens involved in heavy gaming may be physically healthier and less obese than their peers.

Researcher Chennan Liu examined more than 10,800 teens in the United States, and found that the long-term consequences of heavy gaming were both positive and negative. Liu conducted her research as part of her doctoral degree and presented part of her findings earlier in the year at the 18th annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research, which was held in San Antonio this past January.

"Youth who played computer/video games between 21 and 42 hours each week reported better general health and were more likely to have a healthier body mass index five years later," said Liu of the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Perhaps the excitement of gaming burns more energy than sedentary behavior like watching TV. Video gaming requires physical interaction with the controller, while watching TV enables a person to have their hands free to eat or drink,” she added.

Drawn from data collected from 1994-2002 by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Liu's study examined the long-term impact of heavy gaming on both mental and physical health, and compared that to high school completion rates. She divided heavy gamers into those who played 21 hours a week, 35 hours a week, and 42 hours a week.

Ironically, those who played at least 35 hours a week were 22% less likely to smoke marijuana, and while rates of pot smoking increased for those playing 42 hours a week, their numbers were still 14% lower than moderate or infrequent gamers.

On the flipside, however, Liu found that the heaviest gamers—those who played 42 hours a week—were 22% more likely to experience depression in adulthood. Liu speculated that spending six hours a day in front of a computer or console may lead teens to become more socially isolated and unable to communicate with others.

"The mix of beneficial and adverse effects that this research found suggests that parents may want to regulate their children’s gaming behavior, perhaps limiting it to three hours a day to reduce the likelihood of negative consequences,” Liu concluded.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.