Active Video Games Help Some Kids Get Active

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 1, 2012 -- One type of TV time may actually play a valuable role in the battle against childhood obesity.

A new study suggests active video games may help children, especially girls, raise physical activity levels.

The results show most teens who play active video games play at moderate or vigorous intensity levels that would help them meet the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity on most days.

Researchers say so-called exergames may also help at-risk young people get moving.

"Because exergames can be played in a variety of settings, including unsafe neighborhoods, they can increase opportunities for youth to engage in [physical activity] and decrease sedentary behavior," researcher Erin O'Loughlin of the University of Montreal, Canada, and colleagues write in Pediatrics.

Exergames are screen-based active video games in which individual players or groups interact in a physically active way. They include rhythmic dancing games, virtual bicycles, balance board simulators, and virtual sport simulators.

They require a screen, like a TV or computer, and a gaming console, such as the Nintendo Wii. The video games track the players' movements onscreen as they attempt to reach a goal.

Active Video Games Count as Exercise

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,200 10th- and 11th-grade students in the Montreal area about their use of active video games.

The results show nearly one-quarter of the children said they played active video games. Gamers played an average of two days per week for about 50 minutes at each session.

Nearly three-fourths (73%) said they played at a moderate or vigorous level of physical intensity that would count toward meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines.

Researchers also found that exercise video games like "Wii Fit" and "Dance Dance Revolution," which require high amounts of energy, were among the most popular active video games.

New Role for Active Video Games?

Researchers say the results suggest that active video games may have a unique role in the battle against rising childhood obesity rates.

The study shows that boys are more likely to play non-active video games, and girls were more likely to play active video games.

Researchers also found that most children who played active video games played at home, but many also played at friends' homes.

"It is possible that some girls may be uncomfortable exercising at school or in community settings because they feel scrutinized or judged and therefore prefer exercising at home alone or with friends," the researchers write.

"Lack of school-based exergaming may represent a 'missed opportunity' to introduce young people to another form of [physical activity]," they write. "The feasibility of exergaming in community centers or at school needs to be tested, and research on the sustainability of exergaming is warranted."

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SOURCE:O'Loughlin, E. Pediatrics, November 2012.

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