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Commentary > Game Over
This is science?
Excessive gaming can make kids fat. In other news, so can doughnuts.
July 6, 2004: 2:20 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Back in the ninth grade, I wanted to be a scientist. It fascinated me how brilliant men and women could look objectively at issues that had baffled mankind for years and find answers.

I'm beginning to suspect, though, that we might be running out of mysteries.

Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University Hospital Zurich say they've discovered a strong correlation "between playing electronic video games and childhood obesity in school-aged Swiss children."

It gets better. The study, which was covered in the June issue of Obesity Research, said its "findings suggest that the use of electronic games should be limited to prevent childhood obesity."

Well, duh.

Basically, these researchers found if you sit on the couch all day, moving little but your thumbs, you won't get the proper amount of exercise. I ask you: Did it really take a three M.D.s to figure this out?

Now, granted, it's possible I'm being a bit harsh here. After all, as Nicolas Stettler, a pediatric specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who worked on the study, points out "the point of science is to challenge common sense and assumptions to see if they are true."

And Stettler did note that it's not just video games that are contributing to the obesity problem.

"There's an entire environmental context that favors sedentary entertainment," he said. "In more and more suburbs, including Switzerland, everything is built around the car. Children have less physical activity than they did 30 or 40 years ago, so they stay at home and participate in sedentary entertainment."

Game Over
Video Games

The researchers found that Swiss children who do not play video games had only a 6 percent chance of being overweight. Those who played an hour of games per day saw their chances rise to 9 percent. Two hours a day bumped that to 17 percent. And three hours of gaming per day resulted in a 23 percent chance the child would be overweight.

The study was conducted in 1999 and (it's worth noting) was rejected by one journal before finding a home at Obesity Research. Four years is an eternity in the gaming industry, though, which doomed this study to semi-obsolescence from the start. Back then, Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution" was just starting to ping radars. Today, there are entire weight loss programs that revolve around the game. And games using the EyeToy peripheral on the PlayStation 2 get the blood pumping as well.

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Stettler said his group plans to repeat the study to see if the results it found are limited to Switzerland. The trio also wants to expand the focus, he said, to determine if it's games making kids fat or if fat kids are simply more likely to play games.

Granted, there's value in confirming what people believe to be true, but at what point does common sense come into play? Blaming video games for obesity is nearly as ludicrous as blaming fast food restaurants. In either case, the solution to the problem is moderation.

Basically, it comes down to this: Notice junior is getting a bit pudgy? Take away his copy of "Madden," give him a real pigskin and head out to the backyard. It ain't rocket science, folks.  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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