video games and eating

Video games compel you to eat even when you aren’t hungry.

A study in Canada has offered up a new clue to the country’s obesity epidemic.  The study suggested that video-game use is not just a rampant and sedentary replacement for physical exertion, but actually compels players to eat more — even when they are not hungry.


Such electronic diversions are a pet peeve of health advocates, who often cite the fact they keep young people and adults from more vigorous activity that burns calories and curbs weight gain. The new research concludes that the games add calories to the equation, too.

The teenage subjects of the Canadian-Danish study — published last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — spent an hour simply sitting in a comfortable chair and, on another occasion, an hour playing a video game.

After the gaming, they consumed an average of 80 calories more at a pasta lunch. The increase is more significant than it may sound, given that eating only 50 additional calories a day — an apple, for instance — will pack on 28 extra kilograms (62 pounds) over 10 years, said Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput, the lead author.

“It’s a worse story than just being a sedentary activity,” said Dr. Chaput, a kinesiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario research institute. “When we play video games, yes, we burn few calories, but we also eat more.”

Surveys filled out by the 22 young men who participated in the study showed the gamers consumed an average of 163 more calories through the day. Blood tests for appetite-related hormone levels showed no evidence that game playing had actually made them hungrier, however.

The researchers theorize that the normal mental strain of playing the devices calls out for some kind of edible “reward,” with comfort foods high in sugar and fat particularly effective at satisfying the impulse. Dr. Chaput said he suspects the impact is much greater than 80 calories, since in a real-life setting gamers often play with others and eat while they play — both factors that would encourage food intake.

The study underlines a key, widely misunderstood reality about weight gain, said Dr. Arya Sharma, chair of obesity research at the University of Alberta. Exercise is healthy for many reasons, but it will do little to reduce extra pounds; limiting food intake, on the other hand, is crucial to slimming down, he said, and sedentary activities like playing video games, watching TV and even working at a computer make us eat more.

“There is this widespread misconception that obesity results largely from people being physically inactive, not burning calories,” said Dr. Sharma. “Canadians are not getting fat because they’re lazy. They’re getting fat because they don’t have time and because they’re stressed out, they’re working too much … they never shut off.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Chaput said he next wants to look at a new generation of games, such as the Nintendo Wii, that actually require physical exertion that mimics the characters on screen, to see whether they trigger the same over-eating effect. If so, it could be that any benefit of those games — advocated increasingly as a health-boosting pastime for senior citizens and others — could be offset by the resulting compulsion to eat, he said.

About 17% of Canadian children are overweight and 9% obese, according to Statistics Canada, rates that have climbed by as much as 30% in the past 20 years. Children spend more than eight waking hours on sedentary activity on average, four times the recommended amount.

Via National Post