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Health claims on fidget spinners baseless - scientists
2017-07-31 19:37:26
Khristian Maclang

In the photo: A classic Fidget Spinner / Photo by: jLasWilson via Pixabay

It’s just a toy.

That’s what scientists so far say about the world’s new obsession, the now ubiquitous fidget spinner.  It’s not what marketers tout them to be--like aiding concentration for people with attention and hyperactivity disorder or calming fidgety kids down.

This little manual toy that you, fans, amusedly hold like a mini propeller on your fingers for as long as you can has no doubt spun to global popularity in the first months of 2017.  

Quickly taking the whole world by storm and especially popular among children and teenagers, the toy has even spawned numerous instructional videos on YouTube on how to play and enjoy this hottest craze around the globe.

This early--around end of July--advertising website brostrick.com has even put it in the top must-have toys for Christmas this year, being sold at Amazon and Toys R’ Us for about US$11-15 a piece.

But the recent hullabaloo over this toy whirls around marketers’ claim that fidget spinner aids in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and even autism.

Amazon calls it “the official anti-anxiety 360 spinner,” which helps one focus and are for kids to reduce stress and ADHD symptoms.

But such health claims are baseless, according to a study published in July by multinational information firm Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.in the journal “Current Opinion in Pediatrics.”

Authors of the study, titled “Fidget spinners: Purported benefits, adverse effects, and accepted alternatives,” said what moved them to do a research was that parents are buying fidget spinners in the belief that it would improve their child’s concentration and decrease stress in their little ones.

“While fidget spinners are a new phenomenon, existing therapy toys, e.g. sensory putty, have been used by occupational therapists for similar reasons, with comparably little research supporting these claims,” the authors of the study noted. “The purpose of this review is to explore literature regarding sensory toys and examine educator/professional-reported concerns and medical adverse effects of fidget spinners.”

The authors were: Rachel Schecter, Jay Shah, Kate Fruitman, and Ruth Lynn Milanaik, a developmental-behavioral pediatrics doctor affiliated with a number of hospitals in New York.

They said: “Due to a recent surge in popularity, fidget spinners and other self-regulatory occupational therapy toys have yet to be subjected to rigorous scientific research.  Thus, their alleged benefits remain scientifically unfounded.”

Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida, doesn’t also have an encouraging opinion of fidget spinners’ purported benefits, based on an article on educational website Live Science on July 24.

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” Live Science quoted Rapport as saying. “Without studies that specifically look at fidget spinners, it’s impossible to say for sure whether the devices could help kids with ADHD.”

Rapport has studied the benefits of gross movement, like exercise, on attention of people with ADHD.

“The little handheld toys are not likely to help much,” he told Live Science. “They don’t require gross body movement, which is what appears to be responsible for increasing activity in the frontal and prefrontal brain areas that are responsible for sustaining attention.”

He added the spinners are also visually distracting, as to pull a child’s attention away from the chalkboard or teacher.

This kind of explains why an increasing number of schools in different countries are banning the use of fidget spinners in school, as annoyed teachers say the kids are focusing more on the toy than on their lessons.

The South Australian Primary Principals’ Association, for instance, is complaining about fidget spinners.

The association’s president, Pam Kent, said principals are reporting the devices are doing the exact opposite of what they were allegedly originally designed for.

“It is becoming a problem,” Kent told The Advertizer.  “Principals feel they are not being used for the intended purpose of being a sensory tool to help kids with their anxiety and help them engage more in learning.”

Speaking to publication The Quint, psychologist Dr.Vandana Prakash said: “There has been no proof of any fidgeting device having any health benefits.  How a person reduces stress or anxiety is an individual-based approach.  Different things work for different people.  One needs to be calm.  Only then you can focus and think straight.”

The scientists conclude allegations that fidget spinners specifically help people with ADHD and autism are just “tall claims with no scientific backing.”

The Quint quoted Prakash as saying that using a gadget that is “spinning like a mini ceiling fan in your hands is more likely to serve as a distraction than to actually benefit for individuals with ADHD.”

Several media outlets like the New York Post and The Guardian have credited Florida-based Catherine Hettinger, 62, as the inventor of the now extra popular toy about two decades ago.

The New York Post reported Hettinger got the idea when she saw young boys throwing rocks at police officers in Israel.

The Post’s report said: “She wanted to find a way to distract young kids and give them something soothing to release pent-up energy.”

“It started as a way of promoting peace, and then I went on to find something that was very calming,” the Post quoted her as saying.

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