Sweden’s game-addicted kids facing obesity

Around 40,000 Swedish youngsters between the ages of 11 and 16 spend more than 35 hours a week playing computer games. Many say they are unable to stop and become aggressive and restless without their fix.

Monday’s Dagens Nyheter introduced us to the warring factions in the Junttila household: Elisabeth and her 17 year old son Martin.

“I curse the day I bought a console for my son, who was six years old at the time,” she said. “But I thought it was just a toy like any other.”

The toy became an obsession and now Martin leaves his homework to gather dust. Chained to his control pad, he spends more than five hours a day in the company of his console and sleep is secondary to the screen.

“My son always says, ‘I just have to finish this first’. And it can take days before he is done,” she said. “It’s a never-ending fight. I meet parents who think you ought to be thankful that kids are staying in at home. But, my God, that’s not what you want.”

As chairperson of the national organisation Hem och Skola (Home and School), Elisabeth Juntilla is now working with parents in a bid to reduce gaming dependency trends.

“It is alarming that so many children sit at home alone, locked in a dark room for hours,” she told DN. “They lose all perspective of time and, in the end, they don’t know the difference between night and day.”

A recent survey was conducted by Fair Play, a Swedish organisation which campaigns to highlight the problems of gaming addiction. Over 2,000 young Swedes aged between 11 and 16 took part and nearly 80 per cent said they know someone who ‘plays too much’.

Many also want to be freed from their addiction – 31 per cent stated they have tried but failed to stop gaming excessively.

“This isn’t a scientific study but the results are no doubt representative,” says Fair Play’s Per Hamid Ghatan, also a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Neuro-Science at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute.

“More studies are needed in this area because the withdrawal symptoms for computer game addicts are similar to other types of dependency,” he added.

According to DN, there is no scientific evidence that computer games are a cause of dependency and addiction. And Japanese research has shown that computer games can actually strengthen a child’s intellectual capacity.

“Of course this can be the case for these children,” said Per Hamid Ghatan. “But at the same time we must investigate what happens to the brain when a child plays too much.”

And perhaps what happens to their waistlines’ too. Monday’s Aftonbladet reported on an American study which reveals that computer games leave children boggle-eyed and big-bellied.

Researchers concluded that children who play computer games when they should be sleeping run an increased risk of becoming overweight – an expanding problem in Sweden.

According to Monday’s Svenska Dagbladet, the number of Swedes tipping the scales is costing the nation its health and a fat wad of cash. In 2003, obesity cost the Swedish Health Service three billion crowns.

In a report by the Swedish Institute for Health Economics that amount only covered the healthcare costs for conditions associated with being overweight – diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. The report did not include societal costs such as sick leave and early retirement.

Over the last 20 years, Swedes have indeed been piling on the pounds. At present, it is estimated that 37 per cent of the Swedish population is overweight. But if the trend continues that figure will rise to 46 per cent by the year 2030.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet