Youngsters hooked on video games are more likely to become obese… and develop disorders such as heart disease and diabetes, according to new research.
They get less sleep which raises both blood pressure and blood fats, destroys good cholesterol and triggers resistance to the hormone insulin which controls blood sugar.
Paediatrician Professor Katherine Morrison said the findings are serious given the millions of youngsters around the world who play computer games.
She said: “This is an important phenomenon to understand. We are seeing some children and teens develop serious addiction like symptoms to video games.
“It affects a vulnerable population of children and youth, can impact social interactions amongst youth and, as our research shows, can drive health issues.”
Her team analysed a group of ten to 17 year olds in ‘lifestyle management’ programs, either for weight issues or disorders involving fats in the blood, known as lipids.
The study published in PLOS ONE looked at whether the video game habits of the group had an impact on sleep, obesity and cardio-metabolic health, which measures risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Using fitness trackers, the researchers found addiction to video games resulted in shorter sleep.
This elevated blood pressure, reduced high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol, triggered insulin resistance and boosted levels of triglycerides, blood fats too much of which cause heart disease and stroke.
Prof Morrison, of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, said it was important to note this was a specific group of children and teenagers. It is unknown if this information applies to the general population.
But she added: “That said, we were amazed amongst gamers, video game addiction scores explained one third of the differences in sleep duration.
“Sleep is emerging as a critical behaviour for cardio metabolic health, and this data shows gaming addictions can cause numerous health issues in at least a segment of the population.
“Childhood obesity tracks into adulthood and obese children face a greater risk of cardiovascular and coronary diseases as well as type 2 diabetes as adults.
“It is urgent to target early lifestyle behaviours such as videogame addictive tendencies that could lead to major future health consequences.”
Previous research has suggested computer games stimulate youngsters’ appetites, encouraging them to raid the fridge and cupboards for snacks.
Experts believe this may explain why children who spend hours on games consoles are often obese. It is not just because they don’t exercise.
Researchers found that teenage boys consumed an extra 80 calories after playing computer games for an hour compared to those who did not.
The World Health Organisation has named computer games as the single biggest cause of childhood obesity.
Another study found fat youngsters were 20 per cent more likely to spend at least two hours on the games a day.
The number of obese people in the UK has more than trebled in the past twenty five years.
Obesity levels among children have also been rising during this period. One in three children in the UK is now overweight, while one in five is obese.
Prof Morrison said her researchers are in the early days of evaluating video game addiction in children and teens.
They plan on studying the effects in general populations while also analysing video game usage and addiction tendencies of gamers over time.