Healthy Living

Healthy Living
Step Into the Light

Chris LaVigne | 10 Nov 2009 12:42
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Melamed's study used four categories to distinguish the time kids spent in front of a screen per day: none, less than two hours, three to four hours or more than four hours. More screen time correlated with a stronger likelihood of low vitamin D levels, and those who spent more than four hours in front of a screen were 60-percent more likely to have low vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels are associated with risk factors for heart disease, psychiatric disorders like depression and bone-related problems such as rickets.

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If you read about the study on one of the few gaming sites that covered it, you could be forgiven for thinking that researchers set out to vilify gaming. Take, for example, an August 3 blog post on Destructoid with the headline "Games blamed for vitamin D deficiency." The author, Dale North, was very critical of the research. "Games are blamed for everything else, why not low vitamin D levels in U.S. children?" he asked. "It's not games' fault if you don't drink milk or go outside!"

But North's anger was based on reports of the study that came from the end of an online information chain that resembled a game of Telephone. With seemingly no one reading the study itself, its actual findings were obscured.

The controversy started not with Melamed's report, but with a Washington Post write-up of its findings. In a long article headlined "Millions of Children In U.S. Found to Be Lacking Vitamin D," a Post reporter wrote, "The researchers and others blamed the low levels on a combination of factors, including children spending more time watching television and playing videogames instead of going outside."

The word "blame" quickly caught on. A short syndicated United Press article incorporating parts of the Washington Post story bore the headline "TV, video games blamed for low vitamin D" and emphasized the link with TV and games as though they were the study's focus. That article was then reprinted by the Times of the Internet website, which became the source for numerous blog posts, including North's Destructoid piece, one on Koku Gamer and one on GamePolitics, all of which echoed the word "blame." Neither the study itself nor an Albert Einstein College press release used the word; instead, they referred to indoor entertainment only as an associated factor in low vitamin D levels.

Melamed's study was misinterpreted as having an anti-videogames agenda, when the researchers only meant to inform people about a possible health concern. Melamed herself has a 5-year-old boy who games for an hour or so every day, she says. "I don't think that the videogaming itself is bad, but that in exclusion of other activities is what we worry about."

Gaming media's oversimplifications about the study suggest bloggers relied entirely on third- or fourth-hand sources that distorted the report's conclusions. When asked how GamePolitics verifies information, News Editor Pete Gallagher says, "Whenever possible we attempt to read the original report. Whether we can or cannot read the source report, we link to all the resources used to cover the topic." Destructoid's North says he based his opinions "mostly" on the Times of the Internet article and read "some" of the actual study. But both sites list the Times of the Internet as their only source.

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