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Active video games help overweight kids win at weight loss and self-esteem

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In an era where childhood obesity continues to pose concerns to parents, health experts and self-conscious kids, a new study has discovered an unexpected aid: Video games. When overweight children engaged in active video gaming on the Xbox 360 Kinect, they lost weight while improving their self-confidence.

Researchers followed the process of 75 overweight children, all of whom received instruction in nutrition and physical exercise. Half of that group, however, also received Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles in addition to counseling on healthy diets.

The children who used the active video gaming system exercised about eight minutes more daily in moderate to vigorous activity. As a result, they lost twice as much weight compared to the kids who received counseling only.

"So, if you're enrolled in a weight management program and using an active gaming system, where you're getting up and moving and getting your heart rate up you're going to be more likely to be more active during that program," said Dr. Sara Lappe of the Cleveland Clinic to ABC News.

The active video gaming group also benefited from a boost in self-esteem as a result of their gradual progress with the Xbox Kinect game console, full body motion tracker and video games, reported the Star Tribune.

In an era where many schools are phasing out physical education or overweight children who participate in sports often are physically and verbally harassed about their weight, the chance to challenge themselves with the video games made a significant difference, said researchers.

"What we noticed in working with all these kids is that they didn't have access to physical activity or they didn't have the confidence to join and play in sports,” said Deborah Sundal, a United Health Group senior vice president and co-author of the study. “But many of these kids came back and said, ‘But I love video games.’ ”

The video game group were given activities where they jumped frequently, moved their arms and used their bodies to participate. They lost more than twice as much body mass as those who only attended weight-loss classes, and their fitness levels improved.

Researchers feel the results are significant in terms of making strides in the battle against childhood obesity.

"There’s still a lot of debate as to whether active video games outside of the context of the weight management program will make that kind of impact,” said Brian Landwehr, who heads a department that develops health gaming at United Health Group.

But he noted that because the games are less intimidating to overweight children than sports or gym class, schools may benefit from the new research results.

United Health Group reported that the children who participated in active video gaming benefited from "a clinically significant increase in physical activity and a reduction in excess weight."

By incorporating "active gaming" into childhood obesity treatment programs, the researchers believe that they can help overweight children discover the joys of physical activity without the fear of bullying that often accompanies school gym classes.

Researchers noted that all of the gaming involved Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect from Microsoft Corp. Children received one active video game at their first session and a second game halfway through the program. Although they weren't told how long to play each day, on average they engaged in 10 minutes more vigorous activity on a daily basis, which over time helped them shed weight.

For parents seeking ways to encourage their overweight children to exercise, the research results offer a different method of utilizing kids' love for video games with the benefits of activity. Active video games available range from combined boot camp-style workouts such as Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 - Xbox 360 to dance exercise such as Zumba Kids Xbox 360.

However, it's also important to note that all the children in the program, including those given video games, also benefited from the weight loss counseling component, which included lessons on diet and nutrition. Get actress and mother of two vegan boys Mayim Bialik's tips for getting even picky eaters to enjoy their veggies by clicking here.

To be determined: Can adults benefit too? (We volunteer to play!)

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