CHICAGO – The American Medical Association on Wednesday backed off calling excessive video-game playing a formal psychiatric addiction, saying instead that more research is needed.
A report prepared for the AMA's annual policy meeting had sought to strongly encourage that video-game addiction be included in a widely used diagnostic manual of psychiatric illnesses.
AMA delegates instead adopted a watered-down measure declaring that while overuse of video games and online games can be a problem for children and adults, calling it a formal addiction would be premature.
"While more study is needed on the addictive potential of video games, the AMA remains concerned about the behavioral, health and societal effects of video game and Internet overuse," said Dr. Ronald Davis, AMA's president. "We urge parents to closely monitor children's use of video games and the Internet."
Despite a lack of scientific proof, Jacob Schulist, 14, of Hales Corners, Wis., says he's certain he was addicted to video games — and that the AMA's vote was misguided.
Until about two months ago, when he discovered a support group called On-Line Gamers Anonymous, Jacob said he played online fantasy video games for 10 hours straight some days.
He said his habit got so severe that he quit spending time with family and friends.
"My grades were horrible — I failed the entire first semester" this past school year because of excessive video-game playing, he said. "It's like they're your life."
Delegates voted to have the AMA encourage more research on the issue, including seeking studies on what amount of video-game playing and other "screen time" is appropriate for children.
Under the new policy, the AMA also will send the revised video-game measure to the American Psychiatric Association, asking it to consider the full report in its diagnostic manual; the next edition is to be completed in 2012.
Dr. Louis Kraus, a psychiatric association spokesman, said the report will be a helpful resource.
The AMA's report says up to 90 percent of American youngsters play video games and that up to 15 percent of them — more than 5 million kids — might be addicted.
The report, prepared by the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health, also says "dependence-like behaviors are more likely in children who start playing video games at younger ages."
Internet role-playing games involving multiple players, which can suck kids into an online fantasy world, are the most problematic, the report says. That's the kind of game Schulist says hooked him.
Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Chicago's Rush Medical Center, said behavior that looks like addiction in video-game players may be a symptom of social anxiety, depression or another psychiatric problem.
He praised the AMA report for recommending more research.
"They're trying very hard not to make a premature diagnosis," Kraus said.
In other action on the final day of the AMA's annual policy meeting, delegates:
— Voted to have the AMA support government policies requiring fast-food restaurant chains to provide menus detailing nutritional information including calories, fat and sodium content. A key way to fighting the obesity epidemic "is that people know what they're eating," Davis said.
— Recommended more research on a potential link between high fructose corn syrup and obesity. A measure had sought to have the AMA seek government restrictions on the popular sweetener and food labels declaring that excessive consumption of it may lead to obesity.
— Rejected a move to lobby for limits on the noise levels of in-ear headphones used with iPods and other music-playing devices. A resolution supporting limits said devices with in-ear headphones can generate sound well above 100 decibels — more noise than a chain saw makes and levels that have been linked with permanent hearing loss. AMA delegates voted instead to seek more research on the issue.