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Video games, not TV, linked to obesity in kids

Despite conventional wisdom, simply watching television is not related to a child's weight, but playing video games may be, new research indicates.

"Children with higher weight status spent moderate amounts of time playing electronic games, while children with lower weight status spent either little or a lot of time playing electronic games," say Elizabeth A. Vandewater, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Texas in the Journal of Adolescence. "Moderate" play, while it sounds benign, can have a great impact, given the large number of American children who play electronic games.

The researchers surveyed 2,831 children age 1 to 12, recording media habits of the children and calculating their body mass index, a ratio of height to weight that indicates how fat or thin a person is.

"While both television and video game play can be reasonably be considered sedentary activities, video game play was related to children's weight status while television was not," she says. "This may mean that video game play, but not television use, is indeed displacing the time children spend in more physically demanding pursuits."

How might viewing the tube lead to overweight children? One long-standing view could be called the "couch potato hypothesis" -- kids sit, immobile, watching a screen instead of playing sports. A second view ties TV watching to eating, either through a barrage of ads (mostly for food) or because children snack while watching.

Vandewater says she finds the persistence of the view that watching television makes kids fat puzzling, given much research to the contrary. The connection between obesity and the television screen is weak, she says.

In her study, children with higher BMIs seemed to play video games moderately but read or used computers for non-game purposes either very little or a lot more than those with a lower BMI. The heavier children spent more time in sedentary activities than thinner kids did, but t
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Contact: Elizabeth A. Vandewater
evandewater@mail.utexas.edu
512-475-6886
Center for the Advancement of Health
17-Mar-2004


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