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Overweight and depressed? Not us, say video gamers

By Nicola Freeman

The emerging image of video gamers as just normal people indulging in an increasingly mainstream hobby took a hit last week with the release of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that the average age of video gamers is 35, and that many players have a higher body mass index and “a greater number of poor mental health days” than non-gamers.

In other words, we’re back to the old stereotype – gamers are overweight and depressed! This despite all the positive press that gaming has received since the Wii came along with its up-off-the-couch sports packages.

The study, to be published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine surveyed 552 adults in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The subjects ranged in age from 19 to 90. The Seattle-Tacoma area was chosen for the study, researchers said, because of its size as the 13th largest media market in the United States and because its Internet use is the highest in the nation.
Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing suggested that the findings differentiated adult video game players from non-players. “Video game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns”, said Dr. Weaver.

The researchers differentiated between men and women, suggesting that male gamers were more likely to be overweight, while female gamers reported greater incidents of depression and “lower health status” than women who do not play video games. One interpretation of the findings, researchers said, is that video game playing among women may be a form of “digital self-medication”, taking their mind off their real world worries and concerns.

The publication of the study predictably drew howls of protest from gamers across the nation, many of them questioning the researchers sampling methods as well as the interpretation of the study data. Bob Clarke of Nashville, TN asked how you could exclude all gamers under the age of 19 and then conclude that the average age of gamers is 35? Bill Stepp of Chicago suggested that people with a higher body mass index might graduate towards gaming rather than a more active pursuit, but that gaming wasn’t the reason for their BMI.

However, gamers saved most of their scorn for the study’s conclusion that gaming caused depression. In contrast, they argued, with most people feeling the continuing effects of a deep economic recession, the virtual world offers a welcome escape and more than a little free therapy. “When I play a video game, I can forget about all my problems”, said one man. “Video gaming is a great tension reliever and gives me a big lift at the end of a tough day.”  

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