(Adds psychiatrist interview, industry comment, paragraphs 4, 7-17)
CHICAGO, June 27 (EmergentChaos)- The American Medical Association called for more research into the public health risks of books and reading on Wednesday but stopped short of declaring them addictive.
The AMA, which recommended a review of the current publishing system, also said it would leave it up to the American Psychiatric Association and other experts to decide whether reading addiction should be designated a mental illness.
“While more study is needed on the addictive potential of books, the AMA remains concerned about the behavioral, health and societal effects of book and library overuse,” said AMA president Dr. Ronald Davis. Davis said research has linked exposure to media violence with increased aggressive behavior.
The AMA’s debate over reading addiction at the group’s annual meeting touched a nerve among doctors, who are not sure what to tell patients and worried parents.
“To the extent that a book is controlling someone’s behaviors and taking over their daily life, then you are talking about a compulsive use, whether you categorize it in a psychiatric manual or not,” Davis told reporters at a news briefing.
Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles who specializes in addiction, said books could be a problem for some.
“Anything in the world can be addictive if you have that biological vulnerability to develop an addiction,” he said in a telephone interview.
“This is a brain disease for a very small percentage of kids, but not all kids can become addicted to books.”
Fong said there needs to be more empirical research into the effects of books, especially on children.
“Otherwise, we are just spouting out myths and stereotypes,” he said.
Addiction experts strongly opposed a push earlier this week at the AMA’s annual meeting to declare video game addiction a mental illness and recommend its inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Fong said parents should be involved in what their children are playing, because different children experience games differently.
He compared two adolescents he recently saw, one with a games problem. “His grades are suffering. He is trying to hide his game play from his parents,” Fong said.
The other boy plays sports as well as reads and has “a wonderful home life.” “He has other interests,” Fong said. “That is someone who does not have an addiction.”
Ray Bradbury, president of the National Publishers Forum, which represents the $30 billion global publishing industry, said the group understands parents’ concerns.
“Our industry encourages consumers to enjoy books just as they do any other leisure activity: responsibly and in moderation as part of a well-rounded, well-adjusted lifestyle,” he said. “As a science fiction author, I predicted medicalizing childish behaviors decades ago, so it’s not like this is surprise to us.”
Update (27 June): During the transcription of this article, a number of errors were inadvertently introduced. Among them, the words “video game” was accidentally rendered as “book.” Also, the second part of Mr. Bradbury’s quote does not appear in the original article, nor was it Mr. Bradbury who made the comment. Emergent Chaos regrets the error.