It’s a battle most parents fight—trying to get your children to put down a video game remote to go outside and play. However, researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health Services (SPHHS) suggest that active video games may be a viable alternative to regular activities that children participate in during gym class. The report appears in the January 9, 2013 edition of Games for Health.
Parents, doctors and scientists anxiously explore new methods to increase activity among a growing population of obese children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 17 percent of all U.S. children and adolescents are obese. Previous studies surrounding active video games have produced mixed results when it comes to increasing the activity level and energy expenditure of children.
A new trend among many schools is to incorporate active video games into gym class. In fact, hundreds of schools in at least 10 states now use active video games during physical education classes hoping to motivate inactive children to get moving again.
To find out the impact of active video games during gym class Todd Miller, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science at SPHHS, and his colleagues recruited 104 children in grades 3 through 8 from public schools in the District of Columbia. Inner city children are considered at high risk for unhealthy weight gain.
The researchers compared the effectiveness of two active video games—Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure (Orbis)—versus traditional physical education activities. The children were randomly assigned to one of three 20 minute exercise sessions of DDR, Orbis or normal gym class activities.
DDR requires a player to step his or her feet to corresponding arrows that appear on screen along to electronic music in increasingly complicated patterns. The Orbis game allows players to act as a virtual superhero that battles ferocious enemies, avoids obstacles, climbs, jumps and slides as part of active adventures.
What researchers found was that the children participating in the usual gym class activities expended more energy when compared to the active video game groups. However, children in grades 3 through 5 who participated in the active video game groups moved enough to be considered vigorous physical activity. Conversely, middle school children did not move as much when participating in the video game groups, particularly the girls.
Interestingly, the Orbis game motivated participants, especially girls, to expend significantly greater energy when compared to DDR.
These findings suggest that active video games may be a viable alternative to standard gym class among younger children, particularly for those who dislike gym class normally. If a child hates basketball or volleyball, they may enjoy an active video game. Active video games can also be great alternatives for children who are unable to play outside because of weather or safety concerns.
While video game playing and standard activities must be balanced and regular physical activities still reign supreme, of great importance is to find an activity that children enjoy and will voluntarily participate in. Encouraging children to be active now may establish a habit that will continue through adulthood and help avoid the myriad of health concerns that affect the overweight and obese.