Childhood Obesity and Games, Part 7

dodge ball!

For MedPage Today, Todd Neale wrote about an Australian study of active video games, which concluded that:

Removing all video games from the home or replacing traditional video games with active video games both resulted in small improvements in physical activity levels and sedentary time after school…

Very small improvements, it might be added. But researcher Leon Straker, Ph.D., seems to perceive a glimmer of hope, telling the reporter:

This study has shown that replacing sedentary electronic games with active electronic games will provide at least as good an activity outcome and perhaps be easier for the parent and child to sustain than removing electronic game technology from the home.

This almost sounds like a “lesser of two evils” choice. There is no doubt that in today’s world, any household that totally bans video games for children is likely to be a very unhappy and contentious household indeed. An angry child might go out and purposely gain 100 pounds in protest. By limiting such pastimes to active games, at least no further harm will be done.

But another factor seems to be at work in the equation. Straker has noticed a tendency for passive television-viewing time to stabilize, but the capacity of kids to enjoy interactive pursuits that involve a screen seems to be pretty open-ended. The implication is that, if kids are interested, they will potentially invest more (health-promoting) time in exergaming.

How it went

There were 56 subjects, age 10 to 12, and the researchers had them engage in three different lifestyles for eight weeks each. One living condition involved having no electronic video games at home at all. Another condition involved sedentary Sony PlayStation 2 games. For the third scenario, the same Sony platform was used but with active video games only, augmented by the addition of dance mats and EyeToy input devices.

This study might have been promising, but it was terminated a year early. Technology caught up, and with the availability of slicker toys, the scientists had trouble finding kids willing to participate. There also seem to have been some compliance problems with inputting the exercise data and some doubts related to aspects of the study that required self-reporting.

Emily Sohn, exploring active video games for Discovery.com, spoke with exercise scientist Todd Miller about work done in the nation’s capital at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Miller is quoted:

A lot of people say screen time is a big factor in the rising tide of childhood obesity. But if a kid hates playing dodge ball but loves Dance Dance Revolution, why not let him work up a sweat playing E-games?

A lot of schools are providing interactive video games nowadays as part of their physical education program. In this study, the subjects were approximately 100 children in grades 3 through 8.

Three activities were available for 20-minute increments: regular gym stuff like jump rope and dodgeball; Dance Dance Revolution, a video game that is fairly active and becomes increasingly challenging; and finally, Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure, which puts the player in the role of a virtual superhero and involves activities such as climbing and jumping.

In eliciting movement, the Orbis game won, and the results were mixed:

Those findings suggest that role-playing games that allow kids to control the pace of the game might help some kids meet requirements for physical activity, particularly in certain groups. On a more discouraging note, kids in grades six and up expended less energy than younger kids did on all three activities. In the older group, girls also expended less energy at all activities compared to boys, reinforcing how hard it is for adolescent, inner-city girls to get enough exercise.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Video Games? Only Active Ones or None at All,” MedPageToday.com, 07/03/13
Source: “Active Video Games Can Battle Childhood Obesity,” Discovery.com, 01/09/13
Image by denverkid.

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