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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - One in 16 Oregon youths say they have played a dangerous game in which they get high by putting pressure on the neck to cut off blood circulation to the brain, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
The study was led by public health officials in Oregon and did not look at the extent of the problem nationwide. But the researchers said there is no reason to think the results would be significantly different elsewhere in the United States.
The team surveyed 5,000 eighth graders in 2009 to see whether they had participated in the "choking game," which can result in deaths, seizures, brain damage and even fatal head injuries from falling to the ground.
Of the 1 in 16 who said they had played the game, close to two-thirds reported having done so more than once, and more than a quarter had played at least five times, researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics.
"The more times you repeat something like this, the better the chance of a bad outcome," said Robert Nystrom of the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland, who worked on the study.
Nystrom and colleagues found that children who were sexually active and those who used drugs or alcohol were more likely to have played the game - also known as Knock Out, Space Monkey or Flatlining.
Boys and girls were equally likely to have participated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 82 media reports of children dying from playing the game from 1995 through 2007. That figure is likely an underestimate, Nystrom and colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.
While youth have been playing asphyxiation games for generations, the Internet and social media may be making them more tempting than they used to be.
"I think the ability to spread the word about it via the Internet is adding some fuel to the fire," said W. Hobart Davies, a psychologist from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has studied the choking game but did not participate in the new research.
"If you watched the kids doing it on YouTube, you'd think it was the most fun thing people have ever done," he said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/jsoh2P Pediatrics, online April 16, 2012.
(Reporting by Generva Pittman of Reuters Health; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Xavier Briand)