WURZBURG, Germany — When most people imagine a child who frequently plays video games, there is a tendency to assume the adolescent is out of shape, potentially obese, and probably enjoys a variety of snacks and soft drinks while lounging on the couch. It certainly isn’t a stretch to see the connection between gaming and obesity. After all, playing video games for hours on end virtually guarantees a lack of exercise and time spent outside.
That’s what makes a recent study conducted at the the University of Würzburg in Germany so surprising: researchers found a link between obesity and video games in adults, but not children or teenagers.
“The study contradicts this stereotype for children and teenagers. In adults, there is a slight positive correlation between playing video games and body mass,” says Professor Markus Appel, a communication psychologist at the university, in a release.
Appel and his team collaborated with researchers from the Johannes Kepler University Linz and the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg to conduct a meta-analysis of 20 studies consisting of over 38,000 participants. Interestingly, the analysis showed a very small correlation between video game playing and excess body mass or weight. They were only able to attribute 1% of a person’s excess bodyweight to time spent playing video games.
Moreover, that attribution was only found among adults, not children or teenagers.
“It may be that people who are overweight are more likely to continue their hobby of playing video games during the transition to adulthood whereas new leisure time activities become more important for others,” Appel speculates.
So, how does the research team explain the small correlation they found between video games and obesity? “We identified a significant indirect effect which shows that people who spend more time playing video games also spend less time exercising and therefore weigh more or have more body mass,” the study reads.
Other factors, such as frequently eating junk food or not getting enough sleep, couldn’t be verified by researchers as likely contributing elements due to a lack of relevant data.
It’s also worth noting that only sedentary video games were included in the research. This means that more active online games requiring players to move around, such as Pokémon Go, were not accounted for.
The study is published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.