Study Finds Active Video Games Can Improve Health For ChildrenJune 2, 2014
Movement is key when it comes to children's health, and the rise in active video games makes gaming a little closer to just what the doctor prescribed.
Research demonstrates that including active video gaming in a 16-week pediatric obesity intervention program resulted in both a clinically significant increase in physical activity and a reduction in excess weight among overweight and obese children.
All study participants, ages 8 to 12, enrolled in JOIN for ME®, a family-based pediatric weight-management program developed by UnitedHealth Group.
Half of the participants completed the 16-week program as usual; the other half also received Microsoft's Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect, one active video game at their first session and a second game halfway through the program.
The researchers provided consistent instructions about physical activity to both study groups, meaning the participants who received the Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect did not receive additional instructions on how to use the games or how long to play each day.
The introduction of an active gaming component to JOIN for ME resulted in a significant increase of 7.5 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous activity, with one-third of that time devoted to vigorous physical activity, compared with the participants who completed JOIN for ME without the gaming component.
All children, regardless of study group, exhibited significant and clinically meaningful reductions in weight, consistent with the original JOIN for ME research. However, providing participants with an active gaming console and a game resulted in a significantly greater (more than 100%) reduction in relative weight and body mass index (BMI) percentile. These results more than doubled the impact of the program.
Although screen time is often said to contribute to childhood obesity, this study shows active gaming can be considered "constructive screen time" that can benefit children.
"Given the popularity of video games, it is valuable to see how active video games in an evidence-based weight-management program can help make a positive impact on our national childhood obesity crisis," says Deneen Vojta, M.D., a physician executive at UnitedHealth Group and one of the study's principal investigators.
"The results suggest that using active gaming in a weight treatment program may be an effective strategy to promote physical activity and healthy weight among overweight and obese youth."
Ravyn Hill, a 12-year-old who participated in the Xbox study, lost nearly eight pounds over the four-month program. She also grew nearly an inch and a half, giving the weight loss more of an impact, and reduced her BMI from the 97th to the 90th percentile. The approach the JOIN for ME program encourages children to eat moderate portions of healthy foods and indicates that the Xbox 360 console with Kinect helped Ravyn be more active.
"I used to think exercise was boring," she says, "but when I play games with the Xbox, I don't think of it as exercise and I still get the benefits to my health."
About one-third of all American children are obese or overweight, leading to increased health risks, higher health care costs and decreased parental productivity at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States — nearly triple the rate from just 30 years ago.