A throwaway comment at the end of an article about burgers from UK tabloid The Sun makes the claim that "video games fuel obesity -- because youngsters eat MORE when they are playing them, a new study reveals. Fans of consoles like the Xbox consume an extra 1,120 calories a week, said Canadian researchers." The article then quoted one Dr. Shelley McGuire as saying "virtual soccer affects food intake."
There's a few issues with The Sun's writeup, however brief it is. First of all, Dr. Shelley McGuire, a spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition from Washington State University, was not part of the study in question, but instead simply offered comment on it via outlets such as ScienceBlog.
Secondly, while the participants in the study (healthy, "normal weight" male adolescents around the age of 17 -- a fairly narrow sample) did indeed consume more calories' worth of food following an hour's game-playing, they also expended "significantly" more energy. Heart rate, blood pressure and mental workload of the gamers were also significantly higher than those who were tested while resting -- although the chemical responses in the brain that signalled hunger did not suggest an increase in appetite during play.
Thirdly, it's also worth noting that the study focused exclusively on sports games, specifically, the "virtual soccer" games that McGuire mentions. McGuire said, speaking with ScienceBlog, "I will be curious to follow the results of follow-up studies. For instance, do violent games or educational games have the same effect as sports-related games?"
Most importantly, though, the study linked eating more with video game play but didn't tie it directly to obesity. The authors concluded that the results provided "preliminary evidence" that male teens playing games for an hour eat more in the short term than they do after an hour of rest, but also noted that additional studies would be needed -- perhaps with a wider sample -- to determine the long-term effects on weight gain and health.
In summary, then, while the study does appear to confirm that gamers eat more than non-gamers -- which may well be true -- further research is needed with larger, broader samples, particularly if a bold statement such as games "fuelling obesity" is made.
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as Video Games Fuel Obesity?