Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Researchers from George Washington University recently discovered that e-games can increase the amount of physical activity children participate in and could potentially be a valuable weapon in the war against child obesity in the U.S.
The study, recently published in the online journal Games for Health, investigated the benefits rather than drawbacks of video games in relation to childhood obesity. The researchers at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) believe that some video games can increase energy expenditure for inner city kids. This group, in particular, is at a higher risk for suffering from childhood obesity.
“A lot of people say screen time is a big factor in the rising tide of childhood obesity,” says lead author Todd Miller, PhD, an associate professor at Georgetown SPHHS´ Department of Exercise. “But if a kid hates playing dodge ball but loves Dance Dance Revolution, why not let him work up a sweat playing E-games?”
Past studies have also looked at the impact of video games — specifically those that require users to dance or play virtual sports games — on children in terms of increasing their energy expenditure. The team of investigators noted that hundreds of schools throughout the U.S., including campuses in West Virginia, have been utilizing video games in their physical education (P.E.) courses. They hope that this kind of exercise may motivate children to be more physically active, even if they don´t enjoy traditional sports.
For this project, the researchers specifically looked at the affect of e-games on children in urban public schools. They say that this is the first study to look at the effect of active gaming on African Americans and other minority children in inner cities.
The scientists recruited 104 participants who were students at a public school in the District of Columbia. The researchers observed the students, who ranged in age from third to eighth grade, and their response to traditional P.E. activities and video games such as Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventures (Orbis).
During the study, the children attended their regularly scheduled P.E. classes but were then also randomly given three 20-minutes sessions of either DDR, Orbis or another regular gym class. For those kids who participated in DDR, they were engaged in dance routines with complicated movements to an electronic dance beat. For those who participated in Orbis, they were given the role of a virtual superhero and participated in active adventures where they had to climb, jump and slide around the room. A researcher attended the study session and measured the amount of energy that the children expended.
Based on the findings, the researchers found that, on average, the children used more energy when they were involved in P.E. activities. However, they also observed that students between grades three to five were more motivated by the e-games to continue their vigorous activity throughout the day. Contrary to recent studies indicating that the risk of obesity is higher for kids with TVs in their rooms, these scientists believe that active gaming could be an important component for encouraging younger children to pursue physical activity.
“Many of these children live in neighborhoods without safe places to play or ride a bike after school,” continued Miller in the statement. “If E-games can get them to move in school then maybe they’ll play at home too and that change could boost their physical activity to a healthier level.”
However, for the older kids and teens, the team noted that the video games were not enough to inspire them to continue pursuing physical activity throughout the day. The teenage girls barely engaged with the game or the activities in the P.E. class. Teenage boys, however, did play enough to meet the intensity requirements of recommended physical fitness for their age group.
The researchers were admittedly alarmed by their findings, noting that kids who stop playing team sports during their teen years have a greater risk of gaining extra weight. This weight gain can continue as they age, increasing the likelihood that they will become obese adults and develop related health complications such as type 2 diabetes.
To better understand the impact and potential health benefits of these e-games, the researchers have proposed further studies that look at whether children and teens will play for a longer time with games like Orbis or DDR.
This study comes at a particularly important time, as the growing obesity epidemic currently affects about 17 percent of all children and teens in the U.S.