Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Fat, depressed geek? You must be a gamer

"Gamers are fat, depressed geeks," says the Metro today.

According to the report, two universities in the US have not only found links between playing computer games and health risks, but they have discovered that gamers use the net for socialising.

Apparently, female gamers are more likely to be depressed than non-gamers, while male ones are more likely to be fatter. The average gamer age is 35.

But digging deeper around the story, there are some key details that shed a bit more light.
  • The study was commissioned by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) (and carried out by the universities)
  • The study was of 500 people in the Seattle area, chosen for high web usage (so not universally relevant to all social, cultural or economic areas)
  • People were aged between 19 and 90 (so all adults, and missing one large segment of gamers, while potentially interviewing a large proportion of non-gamers)
  • 45% of them said they were gamers (nearly half of the study’s universe but questionably representative)
  • Questions were self-assessed (so depression and health status – even Body Mass Index – were people's own opinion, not clinically measured)
The results, to be published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, included a quote from Dr. James B Weaver III, PhD, MPH, from the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing in Atlanta.

He said (among other things): “The data illustrate the need for further research among adults to clarify how to use digital opportunities more effectively to promote health and prevent disease.”

Two other UK media outlets picked this up. The BBC’s ‘Video gamers older than thought’, led with the age story, paraphrased the research and compared with a similar survey from 2002.

The Telegraph also led with the age stat but added some more comment around active lifestyles in ‘Average age of adult computer game addicts is 35’. It got the ‘adult’ part right, but for some reason assumed that these people were addicts.

Nobody commented on how the results might be skewed, or inconclusive.

Nobody explored the CDC’s conclusion of web-based information being a way to spread positive health messages.

Nobody sank as low as the Metro.