Childhood Obesity and Games, Part 3

I think my new Zamzee looks pretty spiff

Yesterday, two video clips were included in the post, to make the point that getting some exercise indoors, by imitating the actions of a character in a video game, is preferable to no exercise at all. (And good luck to the downstairs neighbors.) Here is a clear definition of exergaming, from a news story that referenced Kinect Sports as typical of the genre:

[A]ctive console video games are used to track player movement to control the game…

It is well known that many young people enjoy playing video games, and plenty of academic studies have shown that the resulting sedentary lifestyle is complicit in childhood obesity. The concept here is, when body parts other than the fingers and hands are involved, games are even better.

This story concerns a study carried out by personnel from three different universities, in different countries, while only including 15 subjects. They were kids from 9 to 11 years of age, who performed with various degrees of exertion:

[…] 15 minutes each of high intensity exergaming… [L]ow intensity exergaming […] and a graded exercise test (treadmill). The researchers measured energy expenditure. They also measured the vascular response to each activity using flow-mediated dilation (FMD)…

They found that high intensity exergaming elicited an energy expenditure equivalent to moderate intensity exercise… [and] significantly decreased FMD, suggesting that the latter may improve vascular health in children. High intensity exergaming also increased heart rate and the amount of energy burned.

One of the study authors made a particular point of mentioning that high-intensity exergaming has every indication of being something that could hold kids’ interest over the long term, and produce the sustained and sustainable health benefits that are so avidly sought by clinicians in the childhood obesity field. Critics point out that it’s too soon to know — but that is easily curable by facilitating more research along the same line.

Madison Park writes of how, despite the blame dished out to electronic screens:

[…] there is growing interest in using the addictive, entertainment value of gaming to promote health — for kids and adults.

Park is talking about a game called Zamzee, in which a fancier version of a pedometer is worn by a child. It measures not the number of steps taken, but the total physical activity of the day. Then, it attaches to a computer and tallies up the points. The experience of a particular boy is related second-hand, along with more explanation:

Zamzee tries to instill behavior changes by rewarding exercise and teaching healthy habits. It blends the real world and online experience, because when Benjamin moves in the real world, that movement racks up points for his avatar and allows him to compete against his peers for the most physical activity.

An accelerometer clipped to Benjamin’s jeans monitors his moderate to vigorous activity. When he loads data from this device through a USB port into his computer, it shows how much activity he has had since his last login. He can compare how he’s doing with other kids.

Zamzee is based on the same technology as an earlier game from the same inventor, which helped young patients visualize the destruction of cancer cells in their bodies. One of the roadblocks to acceptance is that kids are likely to already have favorite games, like Benjamin with his Minecraft. But Park reports that Benjamin, throughout his four years of Zamzee use, has come to like at least some physical activities, such as hiking.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “’Exergaming’ could help prevent childhood obesity,” Business-Standard.com, 05/18/13
Source: “Wiring the world to fight childhood obesity,” WIVB.com, 08/09/12
Image by Zach Copley.

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