One in 16 eighth-graders surveyed in Oregon admit to experimenting with "the choking game" (also known as asphyxia) at least once, according to research published today in Pediactrics. Though the potentially fatal "game" -– defined by Reuters as "putting pressure on the neck with a towel or belt to cut off someone's oxygen supply, then releasing the pressure to give a 'high' sensation" –- has been around for years, it's gaining new traction and popularity among kids because of its prevalence on YouTube. ABC News reports that videos of kids participating in the game are "all over" the site.
Judy Rogg, whose 12-year-old son Erik died in 2010 after attempting to "play" in his living room, calls the choking game a silent epidemic. "Kids think it's an alternative to drugs," she told ABC. Now Rogg has made it her mission to educate kids, parents and schools about the dangerous risks and severity of the consequences caused by asphyxiation.
The choking game was named the cause of 82 reported deaths from 1995 to 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers from the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland are highly skeptical of that number, however, because it's likely that death caused by asphyxiation could be misclassified as a suicide if a child tried it alone so they believe the number could be much higher.
Beyond the obvious reasons, Dr. Thomas Andrew, New Hampshire's Chief Medical Examiner, made clear to ABC why the game is so dangerous. "The brain gets short circuited… You can certainly trigger seizure activity that may or may or not end in permanent damage to the brain," he explained. Almost two thirds of eighth-graders who had played said they'd tried it more than once, and just over a quarter said they'd played the game at least five times. "The more times you repeat something like this, the better the chance of a bad outcome," Robert Nystrom, one of the study's researchers told Reuters Health.
Rogg believes that the Internet is absolutely propelling the problem. "A lot of kids make it look fun," she says. Indeed, a quick search on YouTube results in dozens of instructional videos, groups trying the game, and even kids assuring their viewers that it isn't dangerous.
In a statement, YouTube told ABC News:
"[Our] Community Guidelines prohibit videos intended to encourage dangerous activities that risk serious physical harm. We routinely remove material… and we encourage users to flag video for our attention…"
The researchers said pediatricians should be aware of warning signs -- bruising around the neck, headaches and bloodshot eyes –- ABC reports. And, Rogg has developed a curriculum to educate schools and parents in Southern California about the deadly game. "Parents need to know about this," she said.
Michele Galloway, whose seventh-grade son, Connor, also lost his life to the choking game, knows first-hand how important it is for parents to be cognizant of the game's popularity. NPR reports that Galloway hopes her story will spread awareness so that other parents will have an understanding that she and her husband did not. They had "never, ever heard about it before," she says.