Video games and body mass

Based on Marker, Gnambs, & Appel, in press

The link between playing video games and body mass: Background

As a typical stereotype of a “gamer”, video gaming has been associated with higher body mass, overweight, and obesity.1 However, empirical findings on the relationship between video gaming and body mass are not conclusive. In some studies higher body mass came with higher video gaming 2; 3, while other studies could not find such a relationship.4;5

Like other screen media (e.g., television), non-active or sedentary video games are often played without much physical activity. A displacement of physical activity through video gaming was investigated but yielded no conclusive answers.6 Moreover, studies suggested that playing video games is still associated with higher energy expenditure than resting.7; 8; 9; 10

An unhealthy diet with fast food and sweet drinks is often part of the gamers’ stereotype. However, video games usually contain less advertisement for unhealthy foods than TV 11 and eating in front of the screen is less prevalent because both hands are needed to play.12; 13


Based on 20 published articles (total N = 38,097) we extracted 32 effect sizes for the relationship between video gaming and body mass. We found a small positive association with an overall effect size of ρ̂ = .09, 95% CI [.03, .14]. People who played more video games also had a higher body mass. Moderator analyses showed significant differences for age groups: While the effect remained significant for adults, ρ̂ = .22, 95% CI [.04, .40], children and adolescents showed no association between video gaming and body mass, ρ̂ = .09, 95% CI [-.07, .25] and ρ̂ = .01, 95% CI [-.21, .23] respectively.

The possible displacement of physical activity by video gaming was tested with a meta-analytic structural equation model. Based on subsamples the meta-analytic associations between physical activity and body mass (k = 11) as well as between physical activity and video gaming (k = 14) were estimated. The respective indirect effect in the meta-analytic mediation model was small but significant with B = .01, 95% CI [.00, .02]. However, this small effect size explained only 7 percent of the total effect of video gaming on body mass.

Overall, the more time was spent with video/computer games, the higher was the body mass, ρ̂ = .09. However, this relationship is very small.

Body mass and gaming

For children, playing video/computer games was not significantly associated with body mass, ρ̂ =. 09.

Body mass and gaming in children

For adolescents, playing video/computer games was not significantly associated with body mass, ρ̂ = .01.

Body mass and gaming in adolescents

Adults who often play video/computer games also have higher body mass, ρ̂ = .22. However, this relationship is rather small.

Body mass and gaming in adults


This meta-analysis provided more insight into behavioral correlates of overweight and obesity. In summary, sedentary video gaming was only weakly associated with body mass. This association was only prevalent in adults, not children and adolescents. Based on a smaller subset of studies we found a first hint towards a displacement of physical activity.


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1 Borland, S. (2011). Playing computer games increases obesity risk in teens by making them hungry. Daily Mail.Retrieved from:

2 Martinovic, M., Belojevic, G., Evans, G. W., Lausevic, D., … & Boljevic, J. (2015). Prevalence of and contributing factors for overweight and obesity among Montenegrin schoolchildren. The European Journal of Public Health, 25, 833-839. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckv071

3 Siervo, M., Cameron, H., Wells, J. C., & Lara, J. (2014). Frequent video-game playing in young males is associated with central adiposity and high-sugar, low-fibre dietary consumption. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 19, 515-520. doi:10.1007/s40519-014-0128-1

4 Bickham, D. S., Blood, E. A., Walls, C. E., Shrier, L. A., & Rich, M. (2013). Characteristics of screen media use associated with higher BMI in young adolescents. Pediatrics, 131, 935-941. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-1197

5 Scharrer, E., & Zeller, A. (2014). Active and sedentary video game time: Testing associations with adolescents’ BMI. Journal of Media Psychology, 26,39-49. doi:0.1027/1864-1105/a000109

6 Pearson, N., Braithwaite, R. E., Biddle, S. J., van Sluijs, E. M. F., & Atkin, A. J. (2014). Associations between sedentary behaviour and physical activity in children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 15, 666-675. doi:10.1111/obr.12188

7 Barkley, J. E., & Penko, A. (2009). Physiologic responses, perceived exertion, and hedonics of playing a physical interactive video game relative to a sedentary alternative and treadmill walking in adults.Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 12,12-22

8 Lanningham-Foster, L., Jensen, T. B., Foster, R. C., Redmond, A. B., Walker, B. A., Heinz, D., & Levine, J. A. (2006). Energy expenditure of sedentary screen time compared with active screen time for children. Pediatrics, 118, e1831-e1835. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-1087

9 Penko, A. L., & Barkley, J. E. (2010). Motivation and physiologic responses of playing a physically interactive video game relative to a sedentary alternative in children. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 39, 162-169. doi:10.1007/s12160-010-9164-x

10 Wang, X., & Perry, A. C. (2006). Metabolic and physiologic responses to video game play in 7-to 10-year-old boys. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160, 411-415. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.4.411

11 Leibowitz, J., Rosch, J. T., Ramirez, E., Brill, J., & Ohlhausen, M. (2012). A review of food marketing to children and adolescents. Washington, DC: Federal Trade Commission.

12 Rey-Lopez, J. P., Vicente-Rodríguez, G., Biosca, M., & Moreno, L. A. (2008). Sedentary behaviour and obesity development in children and adolescents. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases,18, 242-251. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2007.07.008

13 Tomlin, D., McKay, H. A., Forster, M., Rhodes, R. E., Rose, H., Higgins, J. W., & Naylor, P. J. (2014). Exploring the relationship between diet and TV, computer and video game use in a group of Canadian children. International Journal of Child Health and Nutrition, 3, 195-203. doi:10.6000/1929-4247.2014.03.04.6