The BMJ Today: Hidden holiday horrors

peter_doshiAre you ready to switch off the email and settle into some quiet time with family? Switch on the old classic cartoons for the kids and permit them an extra hour of late night Nintendo? The holidays—a time of extra kindness and compassion, a time of safety and comfort, a time when doing good just seems so much easier to do. Or maybe not.

According to new research published in The BMJ, children’s animated films are—in the words of the authors—“rife with on-screen death and murder.” Measuring “time to first on-screen death,” epidemiologist Ian Colman and colleagues compared a sample of 45 children’s films with 90 dramas for adults.

While death by gunshot was a more frequent way for important characters to die in adult films, animal attacks claimed lives in 11% of children’s films. “Defenestration [getting thrown out of a window] or other fall” and “other murder” were also frequent causes of death for the kids. Only one third of children’s films had no on screen death. Overall, the authors estimate that characters in children’s films were at around a 2.5 fold increase in risk of death compared to characters in dramatic films for adults. “Parents might consider watching such movies alongside their children, in the event that the children need emotional support after witnessing the inevitable horrors that will unfold,” they conclude.

And if the violence wasn’t enough, to add to your worries is concerning new research documenting the many horrible things that can happen to you or your child while on Nintendo: tendinitis of the thumb or extensor pollicis longus, musculoskeletal problems, and various traumas.

Conducting a literature search, researchers from the Netherlands unearthed case reports going back decades, mostly in the form of letters to the editor. By the early 1990s, “Nintendinitis” had begun to affect children hooked to the game box. After 2006, reports of a new disorder dubbed “Wiitis” appeared in the literature, perhaps not coincidentally following Nintendo’s release of the Wii game console in 2006.

But maybe you shouldn’t worry too much. “Nintendo is relatively safe if the player takes frequent breaks and plays in a safe place,” the authors conclude. And, I might add, the researchers did not attempt a risk benefit calculation taking into account the increased joy, chances for bonding with relatives, and other benefits that might arise from all the gaming during the holidays. Maybe these are risks worth taking.

Peter Doshi is an associate editor for The BMJ