When video games get problematic so do smoking, drug use and aggression

A new study on gaming and health in adolescents, conducted by researchers at Yale School of Medicine, found some significant gender differences linked to gaming as well as important health risks associated with problematic gaming. Published today in the journal Pediatrics, the study is among the first and largest to examine possible health links to gaming and problematic gaming in a community sample of adolescents.

Rani Desai, associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology and public health at Yale, and colleagues anonymously surveyed 4,028 adolescents about their gaming, problems associated with gaming and other health behaviors. They found that 51.2% of the teens played video games (76.3% of boys and 29.2% of girls). The study not only revealed that, overall, there were no negative health consequences of gaming in boys, but that gaming was linked to lower odds of smoking regularly. Among girls, however, gaming was associated with getting into serious fights and carrying a weapon to school.

Although most adolescents appear to be gaming without any ill effects, in a small proportion the behavior becomes problematic, notes Desai. Of those surveyed, 4.9% reported that they had trouble cutting back on their gaming, felt an irresistible urge to play, or experienced tension that could only be relieved by playing. Boys were more likely to report problems (5.8%) than girls (3.0%). In this group, problematic gaming was linked to regular cigarette smoking, drug use, depression and serious fights in both boys and girls.

“The results suggest that in general recreational gaming is relatively harmless, particularly in boys. This is in contrast to many previously publicized reports suggesting that gaming leads to aggression” said Desai. “However, the gender differences observed between gamers and non-gamers suggest that girls may be gaming for different reasons than boys.”

The industry can count on an array of powerful friends inside the government. Consider the background of Gennady Kulik, who headed the Agriculture Ministry from 1990 to 1991 and has since held other high-ranking posts in Russian politics. Before 1999, Kulik was a deputy prime minister with responsibility for agriculture and then became a deputy in the State Duma, taking turns as chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and deputy chairman of the Committee on Budget and Taxes. Near the end of 2002, Kulik stepped in to help the industry: According to federal laws adopted in 2001, cigarette packs must feature health warnings. But back then, distributors and producers were in no hurry to comply with the new rules. By the end of 2002, a huge surplus of non-compliant packs had piled up in warehouses. Kulik backed a successful industry request to allow the sale of the mislabeled packs.

In 2006 Kulik – along with Duma member Ivan Savvidi and brewing industry executive Airat Hairullin – initiated legislative discussion on the main tobacco bill, Technical Regulations on Tobacco Products. According to the official website of Tabakprom, the tobacco lobby’s own officials wrote the legislation. The Kulik-Tabakprom bill reflected terms considered acceptable to the industry, and, according to experts, was intended to cause a collision with WHO rules in Russia’s courts and legislature.

Russia signed onto the WHO tobacco control convention in April 2008, obliging it to adopt measures such as strong health warnings on packs and bans on industry ads, promotions, and sponsorships. But seven months later, the weaker Kulik-Tabakprom bill was adopted. The Duma then gave the industry 18 months to bring its businesses in line with the new legislation.

The new law calls for a warning,

Desai said the prevalence of problematic gaming is low, but not insignificant. She added that more research is needed to define safe levels of gaming, refine the definition of problematic gaming, and evaluate effective prevention and intervention strategies.

By Karen N. Peart

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