August 20, 2009 / 8:05 PM / 10 years ago

Adult video gamers often overweight, depressed

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teens aren’t the only ones glued to the video game console. According to a new survey, the average video gamer in the U.S. today is 35 years old — and not all that healthy physically or emotionally.

Guests play the new video game "Madden NFL '09" at the Madden NFL ’09 VIP Premiere party hosted by EA Sports and XBox in Los Angeles, California August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

According to the survey released this week, the typical adult video game player is overweight, introverted and may be a little bit depressed.

The Internet-based survey involved adults aged 19 to 90 years old from the Seattle-Tacoma area, who were asked various questions about their health, as well as their media habits.

Of the 552 respondents (ages 19 to 90 years), 249 - a little more than 45 percent - identified themselves as video-game players — the majority of them men (56 percent).

In a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. James B. Weaver III, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues say they found “measurable” associations between playing video games and health risks.

“As hypothesized,” the researchers report, a higher body weight and a greater number of “poor mental health days” differentiated adult video gamers from non-gamers.

Men who said they played video games weighed more and used the Internet more than men who did not play video games, the survey showed.

Women who reported playing video games reported greater levels of depression and poorer overall health than non-gamers.

Adult video gamers also seemed less outgoing, or extroverted, and less social and assertive than non-gamers, consistent with prior research in adolescent video game enthusiasts that tied video game playing to sedentary habits, weight issues and mental health concerns.

Adult video gamers of both sexes relied more on the Internet for social support than non-gamers, which supports prior research suggesting that adult video game players may “sacrifice real-world social activities to play video games.”

Weaver and colleagues suggest that video gaming for adults may be a form of “digital self-medication.” Women, in particular, may immerse themselves in brain-engaging digital environments as a means of self-distraction; “in short, they literally ‘take their minds off’ their worries while playing a video game,” the investigators note.

What drives men to the video game console is likely to be different.

In a commentary published with the survey results, Dr. Brian A. Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine applauds Weaver and his team for “reminding us that video games are currently popular not only among young people but also among adults.”

The greatest challenge, Primack contends, will be maintaining balance.

He asks: “How do we simultaneously help the public steer away from imitation playlike activities, harness the potentially positive aspects of video games and keep in perspective the overall place of video games in our society?”

Powerful gaming industry giants, warns Primack, “will successfully tout the potential health-related benefits of products they develop. But who will be left to remind us that — for children and adults alike — Hide-And-Seek and Freeze Tag are still probably what we need most?”

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2009.

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