June 1 (UPI) -- Playing video games may lead college-aged men to exercise less and have poorer eating habits, a study presented Monday during the American Society of Nutrition's virtual conference has found.
Nearly 70 percent of study participants play video games, with more than 40 percent saying they play for more than five hours a week, the researchers said.
"It's important to understand that video games are a risk factor for poor lifestyle habits that may contribute to poor health," study co-author Dustin Moore, graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, said in a press release.
"We know that habits developed in adolescence and early adulthood can stick with people for the rest of their lives, so if we can encourage video game users to eat healthier and exercise more, we could help them live healthier without completely giving up video games," Moore said.
Although research has shown that children who play video games are more likely to be overweight and eat poorly, the new study is one of the first to examine this association in college students, the researchers noted.
The findings could help colleges and universities more effectively educate students who play video games about diet and exercise, they said.
Moore and co-authors surveyed more than 1,000 male college students between ages 18 and 24 at the University of New Hampshire as part of the College Health and Nutrition Assessment Survey.
Students reported daily video game time in an online survey and provided diet information, recording the food they ate over two weekdays and one nonconsecutive weekend day. Physical activity was based on their average steps taken per day as tracked with a pedometer, the researchers said.
They found that those who played video games consumed more saturated fat and sodium than non-gamers, which suggests they are eating more salty snacks. Gamers also consumed fewer fruits and vegetables and engaged in less physical activity than non-users.
Although the researchers did not observe differences in weight between gamers and non-gamers, they noted that the poor lifestyle habits could contribute to excess weight gain and chronic disease later in life.
Following up with participants later in life would also reveal whether their habits and body weights changed as they got older, they said.
"The video game industry is continuing to grow at a fast pace and more people are playing than ever," Moore said. "If the findings of our study are indicative of general population, increases in video game usage could translate to increases in overweight/obesity and chronic disease in the general population, which is already a big issue."