Frankly we had purposely avoided “gaming causes rickets” stories up until now because any link to videogames in the research was tenuous at best, but when pro-gaming MP Tom Watson calls foul over the link and assists in ridiculing the tabloid-type headlines screaming about the latest threat to humanity at the hand of games, it’s worth a look.
Events began with a press release issued to call attention to a new study from a pair of doctors which reported on a growing Vitamin D deficiency among the UK population. A lack of Vitamin D can lead to rickets, a condition that can cause growth problems and bowed-legs in children.
In the press release it was noted that “A traditional UK diet often lacks Vitamin D and this could be a big reason for the increasing problem, as well as changes in lifestyle, such as children staying indoors playing computer games.”
A free paper in the UK (the Metro) picked up the story, splashing a “Video Gaming Leads to Surge in Rickets” headline across its pages, leading GamesBrief columnist Nicholas Lovell to pick apart the Metro story bit-by-bit.
This survey makes no causal link between games and rickets, or even Vitamin D deficiency. It has identified a significant public health issue of rising numbers of cases of rickets, an entirely preventable disease that was almost eradicated fifty years ago. The potential causes are many, ranging from a changing population ethnicity, the lack of playing fields for schoolchildren, a culture of fear that prevents children playing outside unsupervised or even feckless parents who no longer feed their offspring a teaspoonful of foul-tasting cod liver oil every day.
Both Lovell and Watson emailed the study’s authors, Professor Simon Pearce and Dr. Timothy Cheetham. Amusingly, Pearce emailed Lovell, “The average age of a child with rickets is around 20 months old: too young to use a keyboard and mouse!”
Pearce also replied to MP Watson, writing, “No we really didn’t do a study to show that, or say that Gaming causes rickets. It was a classic piece of dodgy lazy journalism, taking 3 words out of PA’s hyped-up version of our press release.”
As Watson summed up:
So, once again video games get a kicking in the press based on an untruth. And the poor health academics who are trying to get their important research across to policy makers have their work undermined by nonsensical headlines.
Watson, for his part, was determined to help the researchers get their message across, promising to request that the government take a look at the case for adding vitamin D supplements to food and for better ways to encourage parents to make sure their children get more exercise.
Watson also indicated that he would ask Department Health Ministers what type of work, if any, they are doing currently to address this issue.
Thanks to everyone who sent this one in.