By Jonathan Zimmerman

A few days ago, my students and I visited a boarding school in Abu Dhabi, where I'm teaching this month. Several of the school's teachers mentioned the growing weight problem here and elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, where the obesity rate now ranks sixth in the world. I asked why.

"Video games," the teachers said.

That night, I read about the chorus of attacks on video games in America, where critics are focusing on their violent content in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Shooter Adam Lanza was reportedly a connoisseur of World of Warcraft and other violent games. So was James Holmes, the accused perpetrator of last summer's massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

In Washington, stricter regulation of video games has become a post-Sandy Hook cause du jour. Last week, Vice President Biden convened a high-profile meeting with video-game executives. Some have called for warning labels and other precautions.

But we still don't know if playing video games makes users more likely to behave aggressively. Research on the subject is spotty and mixed, and millions of Americans clearly play violent games without becoming violent.

For the most part, they also play them in a stationary position. So we shouldn't be surprised that video games are very strongly associated with obesity, especially among the young. In 2011, the World Health Organization named video games the single biggest cause of child obesity.

Why would playing video games lead to more weight gain than, say, watching television? Nobody knows, although one recent study suggested an intriguing possibility: Video games make you hungry. Boys who played them were found to consume four times as many calories as they burned off.

Here in the Emirates, child obesity rates have skyrocketed alongside the popularity of video games. A survey last year found that more than half the country's Arab children were playing console-based games on a daily basis; about a quarter of expatriate Asian and Western kids were. Overall, 39 percent of the Emirates' children are overweight, and 15 percent are obese.

To be sure, video games aren't the only cause. But they're clearly an important one. And when the subject of video games comes up, people here are much more likely to mention obesity than violence.

That's partly because the Emirates has banned or restricted several violent, Western-made games, including those in the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto franchises. Some are prohibited because of their violent or sexual content in general; others, because their violence targets Middle Eastern characters. Last year, authorities here blocked downloads of the game Spec Ops: The Line, which depicts Dubai, one of the Emirates, under siege.

I'm not suggesting any such censorship in America, where it would likely be unconstitutional. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on video games violated the First Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that video games should have the same legal protections as violent children's classics like "Snow White."

Spend a few minutes in the video-game underworld, though, and "Snow White" seems pretty tame. As a citizen and educator, I'm deeply concerned about any product that allows users to simulate rape and murder. And of course we should keep examining possible links between such content and violence.

But we also need to act on what we already know: that video games promote weight gain. The boarding school we visited the other day was doing its part, putting time limits on kids' video game playing. Still, when the children go home, one teacher told us, they often park themselves at their consoles for days.

"It's a problem of prosperity," another teacher said of obesity rates. In a sense, he was right: Of the world's 43 million overweight preschoolers, 35 million live in developed countries. But it's an even bigger problem in the United States and the Gulf nations. Both places need to send kids the same message: Go outside and run around. And turn off that video game.