Video and Computer Games: Effect on Children and Implications for Health Education

Article excerpt

Video games represent a $7 billion business in the United States, exceeding the $5 billion annual box office sales of the Hollywood movie industry.[1] Nintendo, which launches 8-12 new games yearly, sold 2.2 million copies of its best seller Donkey Kong Country game in the 1994 Christmas season and has sold 7.4 million copies of this game worldwide.[2] More than 40% of all television households had a video game console unit in 1995.[1] Furthermore, computer software makers have discovered the value of incorporating gaming strategies in their educational packages. With personal computers in more than 30 million homes and 125,000 schools nationwide, educational software packages that are entertaining have a huge market potential.[3] A 1993 survey[4] assessing frequency and location of play and game preference completed by 357 students in grades seven-eight found the average time spent playing games at 4.2 hours per week. Two-thirds of girls surveyed played video games at least one-two hours per week at home, but only 20% played in arcades, while 90% of boys played at home and about 50% in arcades. Almost half of preferred games were violent in nature, while only 2% of preferred games were educational. An independent analysis of the 47 most popular video games found violence as the theme in 40 of the games.

These facts suggest this pastime has a major influence in the lives of American children. Because of the pervasiveness of video and computer-based games in homes, and due to the nature and content of these games, an examination of their affect on the health and education of children is warranted.


Cardiovascular implications. American children are more overweight, slower, and weaker than their counterparts in other developed nations. In addition, U.S. children adopt sedentary lifestyles at earlier ages. Video games and television viewing may contribute to a sedentary lifestyle by displacing involvement in sport and other physical activity.[5]

However, video game playing is not a passive activity, and it may not have the same effects as television on the prevalence of obesity. Segal and Dietz[6] assessed the metabolic and cardiovascular responses of 32 males and females ages 16-25 to video game playing. Heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption were measured serially over a 30-minute duration of playing Ms. Pac-Man video game under laboratory conditions, then compared with measurements made in a standing, inactive position. Playing the video game significantly increased heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and oxygen consumption in males and females. While the energy cost of playing a video game is similar to that of mild intensity exercise, video games should not be seen as an alternate to exercise. The level of cardiorespiratory stress from playing the video game is not sufficient to improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Playing an arcade-type video game may increase energy expenditure by roughly 80%, but it fails to provide sufficient cardiorespiratory stress to improve physical fitness in youth.

In a study[7] which examined the cardiovascular reactivity patterns in 213 healthy, Black and White, male and female children ages 6-18, children were exposed to the psychological stress of a video game challenge played under three levels of increasing stress. Results indicated video games provoked significant cardiovascular reactivity as measured by an increase in heart rate, and diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

Effects of video game playing on 23 college-age men on blood pressure and heart rate also were examined.[8] Mean systolic blood pressure for the group was considerably higher during play than before and after play. Mean heart rate also was higher during play. However, cardiovascular effects were higher in the novice player than the skilled player, suggesting anxiety abates as greater skill is acquired. …