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Are gamers really overweight and depressed?

A new study claims that the average gamer is overweight and depressed. But some more digging reveals there's more (or less) to this study than meets the eye.

Xbox 360
Does this make me look fat?

The average gamer isn't that 9-year-old child fragging you online, according to a new study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and Andrews University. The average gamer, they concluded, looks nothing like that kid.

According to "Health-Risk Correlates of Video-Game Playing Among Adults" (PDF), the result of a 2006 survey of 552 adults living in the Seattle area, the average gamer is 35 years old, overweight, and depressed.

The researchers chose the Seattle area because of its size, diversity, and reputation of having the highest Web usage in the United States.

James B. Weaver III of the CDC's National Center for Health Marketing said the study shows that there are real differences between gamers and nongamers.

"Health risk factors differentiated adult video game players from nonplayers," Weaver said in a statement. "Video game players also reported lower extroversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns."

The study also found that a gamer's gender doesn't matter when it comes to those issues. Female gamers surveyed had "lower health status" than women who chose not to play video games. Male gamers had a higher body mass index, or BMI, than nongamers, according to study results.

The paper also says women who play video games may be self-medicating.

"One interpretation of these findings is that, among women, video game playing may be a form of 'digital self-medication,'" researchers wrote. "Evidence shows that women are effective at mood management through their media content choices, so some women may immerse themselves in cognitively engaging digital environments as a means of self-distraction; in short, they can literally 'take their minds off' their worries while playing a video game."

A reality check
But there's more to this study. The study's last paragraph mentions that its findings might not be reflecting reality.

"Although the findings of this study help illuminate the health consequences of video game playing, several caveats should be acknowledged," researchers wrote. "Because this study uses a cross-sectional design, conclusions about causality cannot be made. The fact that the sample was drawn from a population concentrated in western Washington state and from an Internet-based panel may limit generalizability of the results."

Generalizability? That's a nice way of saying that due to its small sample size, methods of data collection, and location focus, the study's findings have to be taken with at least one grain of salt.

Moreover, the study found that the majority of those surveyed are overweight, regardless of their gaming patterns.

Researchers found that the average gamer had a BMI of 28.05. The average nongamer had a BMI of 26.55. Anyone with a BMI over 25 is overweight. The differences between the study's mental-health findings were also slight.

American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Researchers ended the study with a cryptic yet telling conclusion: "the data reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video game playing and highlight avenues for future research."

In other words, this study can't be considered a definitive finding on whether playing video games causes obesity and depression. So you can rest for now--there's still no absolute proof that gaming will make you overweight. But I'm willing to bet that an extra bag of chips a day might.