Last week the results of a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics disproved the belief held by many parents that playing “active” video games like Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution could increase their kids’ activity levels. However, before you throw away your Wii Fit systems and go back to the drawing board, let’s take a look at the study to determine whether video game fitness really is too good to be true.
Here is a quick recap of the study:
Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX gave Wii consoles to 78 kids (ages 9-12 and above average weight).
Half the kids were given their choice of two “active” games (e.g. Wii Sports) and the other half were given their choice of two “inactive” games (e.g. Super Mario Galaxy).
Kids’ activity levels were measured for 13 weeks using an accelerometer (a motion-measuring device) worn on the belt.
Accelerometer logs showed that throughout the study period, kids with the active games didn’t get any more exercise than those given inactive video games, with both ranging between 25-29 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day.
Initial responses from researchers, doctors, and lay readers have noted the following issues with the study methods and conclusions:
Accelerometers have been shown to monitor activity accurately, however, the location of the accelerometer can impact what movement is actually recorded. For example, an accelerometer on a kid’s belt may not be able to pick up all of the motion generated by the upper body in a boxing game.
Actual game time logged was not recorded.
Other “active” game systems such as “Kinect” involve more full-body interaction than the Wii.
Fitness games aren’t interesting enough to hold a kid’s attention.
So maybe kids’ playing time just needs closer monitoring, or kids need a different game system, or to play different games. But would that really make a difference in the results? Perhaps the problem lies in the expectation that playing an active game would make a child more active.
Kids need help developing a healthy, fit lifestyle. Giving a kid a Wii remote is not going to promote a lifestyle change, and I would argue that just giving a kid a soccer ball or a pair of tap shoes won’t do it either.
Most kids need a little encouragement and coaching from family and friends to get active. Team sports, dance classes, and playtime (riding bikes, skating, playing tag, etc.) are fun activities that incorporate interactivity. Creating opportunities for interactivity with parents, siblings, and friends is one of the best ways to guarantee that kids, and families as a whole, are reaching the recommended levels of daily activity.
In other words, I wonder if a family Dance Dance Revolution tournament would be more likely to turn into a Dance Dance Marathon?
Courtesy of wii.gamezone.com
What do you think? Can video games still be part of the solution to keep kids healthy? What is the best way to encourage kids to develop a healthy lifestyle?
All parents want what’s best for their kids. They want them to be the smartest in the class, or the fastest on the team. They give them time, money, support, encouragement, and love, all to help them be the best they can be. For many families, this is especially true when it comes to fitness and sports.
But before plowing into hours of practices and training sessions with spring sports right around the corner, it’s important for parents to ask themselves, “Are my kids working out too much, or not enough?”
According to research done at the University of Michigan, exercise is key to combating the obesity epidemic, especially in a nation where 15% of all children are estimated to be overweight. However, it’s also possible to push kids so hard in organized activities and athletics that they run the risk of injury and mental/emotional fatigue.
So, how do we determine what’s really best for kids?
Existing research isn’t too much help here. Many studies have been done on childhood fitness, and many sets of guidelines have been published. According to Harold Kohl, an epidemiologist from the University of Texas, there are at least 27 sets of official guidelines from various organizations without a lot of data to back them up.
For example, we don’t know why 60 minutes is more sufficient than 30 or 45, how play time or unorganized activity fits into the picture, or how individual differences impact the results. Fortunately, the experts do agree on a few things:
Kids who exercise have stronger muscles, greater endurance, and bones that are denser and have greater mineral content.
When obese children exercise regularly, their body fat, blood lipids, and blood pressure may fall.
Kids should not exercise as “little adults;” for example, it may not be safe for kids to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes straight.
Exercise impacts all children differently – some get more benefit than others, and some get none at all.
Left on their own, most children know best what their bodies need.
So what does this mean for families? Children spend a lot of time being told what to do by parents, teachers, peers, and the media. Maybe it’s time to include our children in the decision-making process, and in turn, teach our kids to listen to their own bodies.
Whether they choose to participate in organized athletics or unorganized activity (“just play”), they stand to gain the benefits of building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, without risking physical or emotional burnout. Activity can contribute fun, creativity, new skills, teamwork, and personal fulfillment to a child’s life.
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