Last month a Baylor Children’s Nutrition Research team led by pediatrician, Tom Baranowski, PhD, published a paper in the journal, Pediatrics, about the effects of naturalistic video game play on the activity level of 78 children ages 9 to 12. The children had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 82%, which put them at risk for obesity in adulthood. Participants were given Nintendo Wii consoles and could play games of their choice from a selection of five. Half were offered active video games (or what some call, “exergames“) and half were given inactive games to play at their leisure at home for 12 weeks. The games were new to the children and they were given a second similar game half way through the study.
During 5 of the weeks, the children wore accelerometers to measure activity. An assessment of neighborhood safety was also measured to determine if additional indoor or outdoor play may have bearing on the results, which it did not.
Study results showed no difference in activity level between the two groups, even though laboratory controlled studies in the past had shown noticeable differences. Many of the children played a mix of active/inactive games during the study period, but most play was within their assigned genre. While these findings are at first glance disappointing to health professionals recommending active video game play (and to the game designers creating active games), the study points out that more pieces of the puzzle are in need of answers. For example, it was difficult to know what other activities the children were involved, their activity intensity, and their engagement.
It is possible that a different scenario, say where active video games are used as a tool by a health coach to ensure optimum benefit, would be beneficial. Even with adults, merely putting an exercise bike in the master bedroom does not guarantee use. So while the study’s results are interesting, it might be that active video games highest and best use are as a part of applied therapy with closely controlled monitoring. However, I have no plans to give up my Wii active games anytime soon. I’m having too much fun!
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