Video Games Can Help Obese Kids Lose Weight

Children and teenagers increasingly spend time playing video games. Attempts have been made to get children to exercise and lose weight while gaming. To make exercise seem like play there are some video games called “exergames” that encourage the child to move physically to play the game. This study was undertaken to see if these exergames helped children spend calories and lose weight. Results showed that the exergames allowed children of different weights to burn off energy. The current study reports that, “Exergaming has the potential to increase physical activity and have a favorable influence on energy balance, and may be a viable alternative to traditional fitness activities for children…”

There is an alarming rise of obesity among children and teenagers. Much of this trend is blamed on lack of physical exercise and poor dietary habits. Children often spend a large amount of time in front of the television, computer or video game player. Exergames require the player to make necessary movements to be able to play. This study attempted to evaluate the amount of calories that these games help children spend. The study looked at the effects of these exergames on children of different body weight and body mass indices (BMI). BMI is weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared.

* A total of 39 girls and boys of an average age of 11.5 years were accepted in to the study.
* At their initial visit, the volunteers’ height and weight was measured. They were given six types of exergames and treadmill walking as exercises to be done on rotation different days of the week. Each child spent around 10 to 15 minutes on a rotation.
* Various devices measured their energy use. The children were also given a questionnaire to determine how much they enjoyed the games.

Results/Key findings
* Results showed that all forms of exergaming, as well as treadmill walking, helped the children spend their energy effectively. Walking on the treadmill came in fifth place after four different forms of exergaming.
* Children who had higher BMIs before the study spent more energy on the exergames than those who had normal BMIs.
* Boys and girls enjoyed specific forms of the exergames. Boys enjoyed the exercise more than girls as seen from the answered questionnaires; and those with higher BMIs enjoyed the games more than those who had a normal BMI.
* Calorie use was four to six times greater when exergaming, compared to walking on the treadmill at three miles per hour.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that this study measured the energy spent for only 10 minutes. Studies that evaluate weight loss over a longer time period are suggested. Also, the children were not allowed to eat for two hours during the study. This may have raised their metabolism, but was thought to be necessary. A longer fasting time would have caused the children to become hungry and distracted. Another limitation that the authors admit to is that the exergames were not chosen by the kids. Future studies should let the participants choose a particular game they like and how much they use the particular game for exercise. This would also probably raise the enjoyment quotient of each of the games.

Authors conclude from the study that exergaming may be a “potentially innovative strategy that can be used to reduce sedentary time, increase adherence to exercise programs and promote enjoyment of physical activity.” This may help children, especially those who are overweight and obese, and improve their motivation to exercise. The study also reveals that children who are overweight tend to derive more enjoyment out of the games. This may be an added advantage to this intervention. The authors suggest that further studies follow children who grow up on exergaming into their young adulthood. These studies would then help us to understand how these games change the “energy balance” of the body and prevent or change weight gain.

For More Information:
Energy Cost of Exergaming: A Comparison of the Energy Cost of 6 Forms of Exergaming
Publication Journal: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, March 2011
By Bruce W. Bailey, PhD; Kyle McInnis, ScD; Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, and University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.