Active Video Games Help Kids Stay in Shape

Since children are spending increasing amounts of time engaging in sedentary pastimes such as video gaming, there is a rise in obesity rates in this age group. However, there are active video games that enable the player to increase physical activity and this improves weight maintenance. This study attempted to study this benefit of active video games and found that “an active video game intervention has a small but definite effect on body mass index and body composition in overweight and obese children.”

Studies reveal a significant rise of childhood obesity. This leads to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease when these children become adults. The causes of these risks are lack of physical activity and excessive indulgence in high calorie junk foods. It is found that children spend an increasing amount of time in front of the screens of television sets, computers or video games. To control obesity rates, strategies advising children to cut down their screen time are recommended. However, involving the children in active video games that require the players to move their bodies is a better approach. Dancing, martial arts, football, and washing windows, are a few such activities. This study aimed at seeing the effects of these games, over a six month period, on body composition, weight, fitness and physical activity in children.

* For the study, 322 obese and overweight children aged between 10 and 14 were selected. These children were all used to playing stationary video games at the beginning of the study.
* The children were then divided into two groups. One group consisted of 160 children who played active video games and the other group with 162 children, who continued to play their preferred video games as before. The study lasted six months.
* Sony’s gaming unit Sony PlayStationEyeToy was used for the active group. The kids received hardware and game upgrades so they could play active games like Play3, Kinetic, Sport, and Dance Factory at home.
* At the beginning and end of the study, the body mass index (weight in kg over height in meters squared) was measured. Other factors such as total body fat, level of physical activity, heart and lung fitness and snacking habits were also taken into account.

Key findings
* At the end of the study, body mass index in the active video gaming group dropped marking a significant improvement. In the group that continued playing the earlier stationary video games, the body mass index increased.
* Body fat was reduced by 0.83 percent in the active video group. This was deemed a significant improvement.
* The active video gaming group at the end of the study played around 10.03 minutes more than they did at the beginning of the study. Conversely, the other group played an average of 9.39 minutes less than what they did at the beginning of the study.

Next steps/shortcomings
Authors agreed that the children knew which group they were participating in and this may have affected parts of the results. Also, diaries were maintained to record snacking and time spent video gaming, but these could not be confirmed. Additionally, since the recruitment of the children was through schools, there may have been external influences that could have affected the results. The level of physical activity was only measured at the hip, so upper body movements may have been excluded. Also, more continuous and frequent measurements of physical activity might more fully reveal the effects of such an intervention on physical activity. Further studies are needed to incorporate these active video games and assess their long term effects on childhood obesity.

This study shows that active video games can contribute to improvement of body mass index and total body fat by enhancing the quantum of physical activities in overweight and obese children. It also shows that sedentary habits in children can be curtailed without imposing restrictions on them and parents can play a catalytic role in introducing these changes. This study is also important for countries where children do not get adequate play spaces (such as China) or are constrained by extreme climates from playing outdoors (Northern Europe). Authors suggest, “From a policy perspective, physical activity guidelines that provide recommendations on recreational screen time (television watching and computer use) might be expanded to promote the substitution of non-active video games with active ones.”

For More Information:
Effects of Active Video Games on Body Composition: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Publication Journal: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2011
By Ralph Maddison; Louise Foley; University of Auckland, New Zealand

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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