Listen up, ladies: Video games are making you fat

This is just what we need. In a world where everybody seems to be obsessed with young women and their weight, a recent study has shown that playing just an hour of video games each day can increase the risk of women in their 20s gaining a few extra kilos.

Female eSports team Frag Dolls in 2011

Female eSports team Frag Dolls in 2011

The short version of the study: Women of a normal weight who play games for at least one hour a day are “more likely” to become overweight during a 5-year period compared with women who did not play any games.

The study has been published in the journal BMC Public Health, and is based on a survey of young Swedish adults (in their 20s), who were asked questions in 2007, 2008 and 2012. After a lengthy process of elimination, the survey group consisted of 957 men and 1636 women.

Women who spent two hours playing games on a daily basis gained an additional 3.7kg over the five year period, compared to those who did not. This makes “young adult female computer gamers” a new group at risk of overweight development. Interestingly, there were no similar associations made when men were surveyed, and “spending time emailing or chatting” did not have the same affect as playing games.

Sara Thomee from the University of Gothenburg explains:

The increased BMI in those who played computer games for more than two hours a day would for a young woman of average height and weight equal an additional weight gain of 3.7 kilos.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of playing games – sitting sedentary will add to weight gain of course, but Thomee says the study looked at other factors as well, including age, occupation, physical activity, sleep, “perceived social support” and daily computer time (presumably spent not-playing games). 55% of males surveyed reported “work” as their main occupation, compared to 43% of women (44% of women answered “study” to the same question).

77% of the women claimed they did not play video games, with just 6% of the total women surveyed saying they spend more than an hour a day playing games. Compare that to 30% of the women who reported they spend more than an hour each day sending emails or engaging in online chats. After five years, the percentage of men playing games remained steady, while more women picked up the hobby.

…but after crunching all the numbers, the results were notable: Girls who play games for long periods are more likely to be medically overweight (Body mass index of ≥25, which spans both the overweight and obese categories). Mean BMI increased by roughly 1 unit for both sexes across the surveyed time period.

Importantly, the study doesn’t seem to work out why female gamers gain more weight than their male counterparts. Researchers consider sleep (or lack of) and dietary habits (“Screen time has been associated with a less healthy diet including higher consumption of energy dense snacks and drinks and lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, among children, adolescents and adults”), but were unable to determine a direct link that should affect women but not men.

If you’re curious, the results of the study are available online for your perusal. It’s a good read, if a little complex – and does seem to raise more questions than it answers.

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