It's been called Knock Out, Space Monkey, Flat Liner, Five Minutes in Heaven and the Fainting Game, but it's more commonly known as the choking game. Now a population-based survey, says six percent of 8th graders in Oregon, have played it.
It's a dangerous activity that has been around for years, yet only one third of physicians have heard of it. Older children and young teens either choke each other or use a noose, towel, belt or rope to choke themselves, cutting off oxygen and blood supplies to the brain. The reward, a brief euphoric high when blood and oxygen rush back to the brain after the ligature is released.
Certainly the choking game is not new, but it is overlooked. It is also responsible for at least 82 child and adolescent deaths since 1995 says the CDC. And a new study published today by the journal Pediatrics, said about 6 percent of Oregon eighth graders have admitted to having participated in the choking game.
Alarmingly, 64% of those eighth-grade game participants had engaged in the activity more than once, with 26.6% participating more than 5 times.
Until now, limited research had been conducted into the driving forces behind the choking game, but the new study suggested that participation seemed to correlate directly to other associated health risk behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use, and increased sexual activity.
According to the CDC, the first officially identified death from the choking game wasn't reported until 1995. From then until 2004, three or fewer deaths were reported annually. This figure then jumped to 22 deaths in 2005 and 35 in 2006.
Astonishingly, a Canadian study conducted in 2008, revealed that 79,000 students in Ontario had actively participated in the game. Yet adolescents don't fully comprehend the dangers said the CDC. The sudden loss of oxygen to the brain may lead to unconsciousness in a matter of seconds, and:
Within three minutes of continued strangulation (i.e., hanging), basic functions such as memory, balance, and the central nervous system start to fail. Death occurs shortly after.
Derek Gall fell foul of the game when he tried it at school. The high school sophomore from Randolph, Neb., followed a YouTube video which assured him of a "safe" way to "pass out." Gall told ABC News, that after passing out, he hit his head on the concrete and suffered a fractured skull.
Others unfortunately, paid the ultimate price. Twelve-year-old Erik Robinson died on April 21, 2010 after what was believed to have been his second attempt at playing the choking game. His mom Judy Rogg found her son in his bedroom.
Rogg described the game as an insidious and "silent epidemic." She has now created Erik's Cause, Stop the Choking Game, to raise awareness about the dangers involved and to help it get the "national exposure and dialogue it deserves," she said.
The CDC warns parents to be vigilant. Common signs of game play in adolescents include wearing high-necked shirts in warm weather, or the unexplained appearance of dog leashes, choke collars and bungee cords. A full list of known aliases for the game, along with other physical characteristics such as prolonged headaches and bloodshot eyes, is available at CDC.gov.
Researchers of the Oregon study, advised parents to take advantage of comprehensive adolescent well visits. These are "a good opportunity for providers to conduct a health behavior risk assessment and, if appropriate, discuss the dangers of engaging in this activity," they said.