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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Why Active Video Games Likely Won't Fix the Obesity Epidemic

By February 27, 2012

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It is recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, with most of it being moderate intensity aerobic physical activity.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) even offers physical activity recommendations for toddlers and preschoolers. Toddlers should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day. Preschoolers need a little more exercise -- at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day.

Unfortunately, many kids don't meet these daily recommendations for exercise and physical activity, which is one of the big reasons why so many kids are overweight.

A lack of opportunity to play outside or join a sports team, or simply preferring to watch TV and play video games are some of the reasons why many kids don't get more exercise. That's why many parents get excited about the idea of active video games, or exergames, like Wii Boxing or Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii, PlayStation3 or XBox 360, to help kids burn calories.

While a study a few years ago did show that playing active video games could be as effective as moderate physical activity, a new study that will be published in the March issue of Pediatrics, "Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children's Physical Activity," found that there is "no reason to believe that simply acquiring an active video game under naturalistic circumstances provides a public health benefit to children."

The problem with active video games seems to be the same with actually exercising, you have to actually be motivated to play the exergames.

In the study, kids were given a Wii and either two active video games, such as EA Sports Active, Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3, or Wii Fit Plus, etc., or two inactive video games, including Madden NFL 10, Mario Kart Wii, or Super Mario Galaxy, etc. Unfortunately, the kids who got the active video games were not any more active over a 12-week period than the kids who got the inactive video games.

That doesn't mean that you can't use exergames to help get your kids more active, but you almost certainly can't expect that one of these games is going to be a quick fix for a kid who is a couch potato. Instead, you will likely have to motivate and encourage your kids to play their exergames, just like you do to get their more active in real-life. It might also help to:

  • choose exergames that your kids will enjoy, like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Boxing
  • play the games with your kids
  • consider renting or borrowing a game before buying it to make sure it holds your child's attention and keeps them moderately active for at least 30 minutes
  • vary the exergames your child plays, so he or she doesn't get bored with the same activity, even playing two or three games to make up a single workout

It might especially be a good idea to use exergames to supplement active free play or outdoor exercise instead of simply trying to replace all other activities. This can also be helpful when it is too hot, cold, or wet to go outside and play, or because your child's sport is out of season.

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March 6, 2012 at 10:31 am
(1) Stephen Yang says:

As we tell our PE teacher-candidates, its not the tool that should define the learning; rather, you the teacher must first decide on what you want your students to learn. Then decide on the progressions and learning environment and then finally select the appropriate tools whether it be technology related or not. As a parent, its the same principle. If you simply purchase an exergame (or any other video game) and just leave it up to your child to play, then you should be prepared for minimal impact.

Always think of controlling the tasks (the activities) and environment (physical, emotional, and social) to maximize enjoyment, challenge, skill development and maybe even fitness levels.

There are plenty of resources available to parents and educators including a workshop at the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance in Boston next week.

This experiential, multidisciplinary workshop will focus on how exergames (video games that require physical exertion to play) can be used as a means to accumulate more physical activity in todayís sedentary society. Our panel will lead live demonstrations and competitions on the use and benefits of exergames in schools, fitness clubs, and at home. Donít miss your chance to meet the leaders in exergaming from education, health care, advocacy, fitness, research, manufacturing, and marketing.



March 7, 2012 at 9:41 am
(2) David L James, MSc. says:

This is why we have done R & D to development an interwoven active conditioning program with active coaching to provide synergies with active gaming and interactive fitness called Intelligent Sports Conditioning which is the basis of 100 sites adopting our platform nationwide. We have worked with over 10,000 children and nearly 8,000 instructor training hours to prove our programming engages, moves, measures, motivates, and provides for a myriad of developmental milestones and personal-best accomplishments. FUZE Fit For A Kid!

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