March 18, 2004 -- Don't blame the TV if your kids are overweight. Video games, however, are another story, a new study shows.
Grown-ups continue to be shocked at the time kids spend in front of the TV. Only sleeping takes up more of their time, note Elizabeth A. Vandewater, PhD, director of the Center for Research on Interactive Technology, Television and Children at the University of Texas, and colleagues.
Yet most studies show that low-weight kids get no less tube time than obese children do. Now Vandewater's team finds that there's a strong connection between the time kids spend playing video games and their weight. It's especially true for very young children, aged 8 and younger, they report in the February 2004 issue of the Journal of Adolescence.
"We examined the hypothesis that television and video game use are implicated in the rising prevalence of obesity in American youth," Vandewater and colleagues write. "We found no evidence that this is so for television. However, our results indicate that video game use ... is strongly related to children's weight status.
Don't Shoot the PlayStation or Bash the XBox
So video games make kids gain weight? No. It's not that simple.
Vandewater's team looked at data on nearly 3,000 kids. Their parents kept a detailed diary of their activities on two days -- a randomly assigned weekday, and a randomly assigned weekend day.
TV watching simply had nothing to do with the kids' weight. But overweight kids were much more likely to play a moderate amount of video games. Lower-weight kids were more likely either to play video games very little -- or very much.
These findings hold true for kids under age 8, but not for kids aged 9 to 12. And much of the effect was because of heavier girls playing more video games.
It's possible that more video game playing reduces the time kids spend in more active pursuits. But the heavier kids in the Vandewater study weren't any less active than low-weight kids.
It's also possible that children who are overweight may be socially ostracized -- especially girls -- so they end up spending more time with video games.
"It would be wonderful if there were a quick and easy solution to the problem of obesity in American youth," Vandewater and colleagues conclude. "Unfortunately, the data available to date do not support the notion that turning off the television or unplugging the video game console amounts to a 'magic bullet' which will reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity."
Instead, the researchers say, there's a "complex and interrelated pattern of factors" responsible for obesity in American children and teens.