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It isn’t really a big secret that most developed countries are getting heavier. What’s more, many health professionals are worried about the growing obesity epidemic and the long-term health impacts on individuals and the country as a whole.
Many experts link the obesity epidemic to unhealthy junk food options and limited exercise. Another culprit often pointed to is video gaming. While many Americans of all ages take pleasure in spending their free time playing video games, it comes at a cost higher than the price of the consoles and video games. Often, the cost is their health. In the U.S., obesity is a worsening, nationwide epidemic that medical professionals are failing to conquer.
According to multiple studies, about half of all obese adults play video games. The pleasures of the digital age like video games work to fuel this epidemic, but could they also be a cure? Some experts believe it is time to lean into video games and use them as a tool to help curb the obesity epidemic.
The Growing Epidemic
Across the United States today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 36% of individuals qualify as obese. Nearly 13 million of these people are children under the age of 18. There are numerous serious health risks that begin to arise as an individual becomes overweight and then obese, and many health professionals are anxiously working to help those they can.
Beyond just health concerns related to the individual, there are a number of other concerns for society at large. A collaborative research effort by multiple major institutions indicated that the economic costs to society are actually quite large. Public health costs alone are estimated to be $92,000 higher per individual when compared to a person within a healthy weight range of the same age.
Because of these many concerns, there have been numerous public health initiatives in recent years. Some, such as the increase of grocery stores with healthy food options in ‘food deserts’ have been met with some relief. While others, such as the soda tax or ban, have been rife with controversy from the outset.
Real Video Game Benefits
With an exponential rise in obesity rates across the U.S. coinciding with the normalization of video gaming, it is no surprise that many have been quick to point fingers. They blame video games for any number of negative things going on in people’s lives. Although video games may be implicated to some degree, they are by no means the sole cause of the obesity epidemic and they are certainly not all bad.
In fact, there are plenty of well-documented benefits of video games — especially for those who struggle to communicate and connect easily with people in real life. Video games have long been identified as a means for people suffering from mental conditions such as depression and anxiety to seek some relief. Gaming therapy can even be considered a viable treatment for some people suffering from a mental health condition.
Likewise, gaming can provide a bunch of other benefits. For instance, certain games are designed to develop a greater ability to focus on certain tasks and many keep brains active and on their toes. Nearly all video games help to build hand-eye coordination and the ability to multitask more effectively.
Can Video Games Help with Weight Loss?
The real question is can these types of games actually help with curbing this obesity epidemic? Can video games actually help people lose weight and achieve a healthier lifestyle? There is new evidence that indicates they just might.
When it comes down to it, there is evidence that certain games have a real power to help kick start weight loss. One study completed by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University found that active video games can actually make a profound difference in the health of overweight children who played them regularly. When compared to a control group, children who played these games over a six month period were able to:
- Reduce their body mass index by an average of three points.
- Reduce their cholesterol by seven percentiles.
- Increase their physical activity by 10%.
- Develop a belief that they were capable of controlling their physical activity levels.
The study offers a lot of great insights for those trying to help control the obesity epidemic. Rather than building up the notion that video games are the cause of the problem, it can be valuable to lean into the culture and find ways to use it to help reach desired outcomes.
Of course, just as video games are not the sole cause of the problem, they are not the sole solution either. Active video games can make a big difference, but their effects can be more impactful when combined with things such as a healthy diet and regular meals such as breakfast. Cutting out junk food and replacing it with healthy snacks could be a game-changer, along with knowing about and avoiding some major nutrition mistakes.
The exponential growth of the obesity epidemic is concerning. Though studies indicate that many obese people play a lot of video games, the games should not be identified as the sole contributor to obesity. Video games can offer a lot of benefits when used within reason, and given the right games, can actually make a positive difference in overall health — especially when connected up with healthier food choices.