November 23, 2014
   
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Enlisting Exergames in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity
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Enlisting Exergames in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

 

Perhaps instead of bemoaning our children's sedentary, media-obsessed, tendency to gain weight, we should think inside the box, the Xbox that is. Maybe kids can have their video games and exercise, too. A recent study suggests that exergames, video games that rely on physical activity by the player, may offer children and teens a way to avoid couch potato syndrome (not a medical term).

The epidemic of over-weight and under-fit school-aged children is well documented, and the health effects of this trend are already being seen. Children are at risk for early onset of chronic illnesses previously seen primarily in adults, including type II diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.

It is not simply that children have lost interest in being active. Recess has been cut.

It's not all about a poor diet. A lack of daily exercise plays a major role in the current health crisis. Numerous studies have documented the decline in the exercise habits of children and teens.

One study found that more than 90 percent of the children aged nine to 11 met the recommended level of 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. But after age 11, physical activity declined by about 40 minutes per day each year until, by age 15, only 31 percent met the recommended level on weekdays, and 17 percent met the recommended level on weekends.

Amid Diminishing Opportunities, A New Option

It is not simply that children have lost interest in being active. Slashing of school sports programs, elimination of recess, lack of access to recreational spaces, and increased reliance on sedentary and screen-based activities are among the factors conspiring against a more physically active younger generation. So there is a real need to find a way to reintroduce vigorous exercise into children’s recreational activities. Exergames may help to do this.

Exergames are video games that are motion-controlled. rely on physical activity by the player. The games range from dancing, to virtual sports simulators. They require a screen and a console to play. (Xbox Kinect, Wii, and PS3's PlayStation Move are the main motion-controlled platforms). The games appeal to children and adolescents who are attracted by the technology of video games for their entertainment and enjoy watching their own movements tracked on screen.

The Study
A group of Canadian researchers looked at a sample of over 1200 teenagers in 29 Montreal schools to determine who plays exergames, how often they play them, and whether they might be helpful in combating the epidemic of teenage overweight and under fit.(1)

The researchers used self-report questionnaires mailed to 1241 students in grades 10 and 11.

After age 11, physical activity declined by about 40 minutes per day each year until, by age 15, only 31 percent met the recommended level on weekdays, and 17 percent met the recommended level on weekends.

They collected data about demographic characteristics, smoking and substance use, exergame and video game use, physical activity level, and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. About 25% of the study population exergamed, playing an average of two days per week for 50 minutes a time.

Seventy-three percent (73%) of the exergamers reported their activity level during play was moderate or vigorous in intensity. Most exergamers were female; most played non-active video games as well and reported watching two or more hours of TV per day. Additionally, exergamers tended to report feeling concerned about their weight.

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