Video Games Can Make Kids More Active, Along With Weight Management Programs

Kids playing games
Active video games that involve movement could actually be a useful way for kids to get several extra minutes of exercise in every day. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Video games: the cause of your children’s laziness and lack of outdoor activity — or so we think. Though it may sound counterintuitive, a new study claims that active video games could boost kids’ moderate and vigorous activity levels. Instead of yelling at kids to get off the TV or video games, researchers wanted to see if they could use video games to their advantage.

In fact, children who played active video games along with undergoing a weight management program were more likely to lose weight than kids who simply followed the weight management program. “We thought — if you received active games — maybe we could turn this lemon into lemonade,” Dr. Deneen Vojta, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters. “Wouldn’t it be great if instead of beating on kids about screen time we turned screen time into a positive?”

The study involved 75 overweight and obese children from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Texas. They were placed into two separate groups throughout 16 weeks. Both groups underwent a proven weight loss program at local YMCAs, but one group received an Xbox and two active games, Kinect Adventures! and Kinect Sports, which both use a Kinect device that is able to track the movements of the players to operate the game.

Most of the kids were between 8 and 12 years old, and weighed between 123 and 132 lbs. Those who played the active games ended up adding about seven minutes of moderate to vigorous activity to their daily routines during the course of the experiment. This is a small difference, but the authors of the study claim that it could ultimately mean an extra four pounds lost over the course of a year.

However, substituting regular exercise with a game system is probably not the best choice, either. Previous studies have showed that active games don’t help much in losing weight. In order to reach the best results, it’s important to follow a regimented daily exercise schedule, and simply add active games on the side as a fun addition to the workout.

“Maybe the Wii isn’t going to increase physical activity a whole heck of a lot,” exercise scientist Jacob Barkley of Kent State University told Reuters. “But it might increase caloric expenditure a little bit more than a traditional sedentary video game, and if you do that on a daily basis that could have a cumulative effect that might be beneficial.” Another study found that among postpartum women, active video games did help in increasing “spare physical activity.”

In other words, as Kevin Short of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center says, “just because you can play soccer on the Wii doesn’t mean you should stop playing it outside.”

Source: Trost S, Sundal D, Foster G, Lent M, Vojta D. “Effects of a Pediatric Weight Management Program With and Without Active Video Games.” JAMA Pediatrics, 2014

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