Eating and drinking while playing video games is a time-honored tradition. And while it’s surprisingly ubiquitous, according to a new study, it could also have profound implications on your health.
A whopping 80% of gamers around the world said they eat food or drink beverages while they play video games, according to a new study from researcher NewZoo. Men are slightly more likely than women to eat or drink while playing games, and age appears to be a factor: 91% of men and 87% of women in North America between the ages of 21 and 35 are chowing down during a game session.
So, what are players actually consuming during a game?
In North America, 49% of players said they consume salty snacks, compared to 39% for sweet snacks. Forty-eight percent of players say they sip soft drinks while they play.
The study helps to illustrate what players are doing while they wait for games to load, pause, and otherwise spend hours in front of their screens playing their favorite games. It may also highlight the increasingly troubling problem of mindless munching.
The term mindless eating has been popularized in recent years by dietitians who say it could cause weight gain and obesity. Players, distracted by the games they’re playing and not paying attention to bodily cues telling them to stop eating, are prone to overeating while playing games. And that could have a profoundly negative impact on their health.
“We are eating food without truly experiencing the satisfaction of eating,” Vandana Sheth, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian told Digital Trends. “Most likely, we are eating when we are not hungry and this leads to eating more calories than we need.”
Worse yet, the NewZoo survey suggests players aren’t eating fruit and vegetables while they play. Instead, they’re choosing chips, cookies, and other high-calorie foods — a surprisingly common occurrence among mindless munchers, Sheth said.
“Foods that are enjoyed mindlessly often are packaged foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition quality,” she said.
There are, of course, two elements to weight gain — caloric intake and activity. Even those who consume a significant number of calories can stay fit and trim with more activity. Gamers, however, aren’t exactly known for their activity.
Recipe for health problems
Whether that’s an exaggerated stereotype or not, when researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Emory University, and Andrews University examined the health of more than 500 video game players several years ago, the results were clear: Gamers tend to move less and are in worse health than their non-gaming counterparts. Male players had higher body mass indexes than non-players and females had “lower health status” than non-players.
That could ultimately create a recipe for health problems, Sheth said.
But gamers aren’t alone. After all, mindless eating isn’t just a video game problem. It’s not uncommon to chow down on popcorn while watching a movie or to take down an entire plate of pasta while bingeing a Netflix show.
Sheth said the activity we’re performing while mindlessly eating doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s the very fact that we’re mindlessly eating that causes health problems.
“Mindless eating while playing a video game or watching a movie are both distracted eating experiences,” she said.
So, what can we do to improve our health while playing games? The answers are surprisingly simple and largely center on self-control.
“Enjoy regular meals and snacks,” Sheth said. “Try to focus on truly savoring your food without distractions and avoid eating while being distracted.”
Considering gamers also prefer salty and sweet snacks, using a form of “social distancing” might help, too.
Dr. Brian Wansink, the author of Mindless Eating, told the National Institutes of Health in an interview that his studies show a clear drop-off in mindless munching when people keep foods out of arm’s reach.
“We found that if you move a candy dish from a person’s desk to just six feet away, they end up eating about half the amount of candy,” Wanksink said. “The six feet gave people pause to ask themselves whether they were really that hungry, and half the time, they would answer ‘No.’”