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Gaming: How much is too much?

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Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines when they announced that ‘gaming’ would be added to the International Classification of Diseases.

According to Joe Austerman, D.O., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, one of the biggest problems that gaming presents for children is that it can prevent them from getting enough physical activity.

“We know gaming is a sedentary, isolating event,” he said. “You’re either playing alone or in small groups of people and you’re not getting physical activity. There are long term consequences to this, such as higher rates of obesity and other health problems later on in life.” 

Dr. Austerman said, by nature, we are social creatures who need personal interaction. The more time a child spends in front of a television, the more delayed their social-emotional development can become, as gaming decreases a child’s time spent interacting with others face to face.

He said too much time spent gaming has even been linked to increased impulsivity, negativity and irritability.

Dr. Austerman cautions parents that just because a child likes to play video games, it does not necessarily mean that they have a gaming disorder.

He said the disorder classification is meant to address situations where people neglect their responsibilities either at school or at work. 

And excessive gaming is a problem that can be experienced by both adults and children.

“When you’re using escalating hours of gaming - specifically if you can’t stop gaming and you’re having negative consequences in life because of it - that is what the definition of the disorder is,” said Dr. Austerman. 

Dr. Austerman said part of the reason why the gaming diagnosis was developed was to allow for the proper criteria to be established in order for experts to study it more.

Like any addiction disorder, the time for concern is when the activity reaches the point where it becomes a problem that interferes with the person’s ability to function in their everyday life.

“This really is a serious illness for people that have it and we don’t think that everybody that plays video games will develop this illness,” said Dr. Austerman. “It’s really when you see very negative real-world consequences because somebody cannot stop playing video games.”

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