Home Fitness Video Games are Keeping Your Child Fat

Fitness Video Games are Keeping Your Child Fat

Summer vacation, which is just around the corner, used to be a time to take in the great outdoors, but increasingly video games have replaced the sandlot and soapbox derby to the chagrin of many parents – especially as child obesity levels rise. The game makers have responded in recent years, introducing numerous so-called “fitness” games. But are these an actual substitute for proper exercise?

In April, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition teamed up with the Entertainment Software Association to demonstrate “how to use video games to promote physical activity,” with the goal to turn passive TV screens into an active video game screens. 

“There is no convincing evidence that video games provide this level of activity. You are in front of TV when playing these games conducting repetitive motion. That’s not working out.”
-Billy Pidgeon, M2 Research

According to a study published this past winter in the journal Pediatrics, it was unclear whether games even ramped up physical activity. The study, conducted by the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, followed 78 children between the ages of 9 and 12, and gave each a new Wii video game console. None had owned one before.

The findings only determined that it was “not clear whether those in the study group were more active as a result of the video games but compensated by being less active later in the day, or if they found a way to manipulate the instruments to minimize the amount of physical activity,” said lead author Tom Baranowski, Ph.D.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children today should get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. Can games provide that?

“There is no convincing evidence that video games provide this level of activity,” Billy Pidgeon, principal analyst for M2 Research. “You are in front of TV when playing these games conducting repetitive motion. That’s not working out.”

Pidgeon adds that other games, notably freeform dance games, would probably do a better job of burning calories. But he added that even the publishers are careful to make extravagant claims about what the games can do.

“The publishers are taking the line that these games can be a supplementary role in fitness,” he added. “And adding the games to an active lifestyle isn’t a bad thing. The fitness games are still better than just sitting on the coach.”

Additionally, games such as Wii Fit and the Biggest Loser titles also work to monitor progress from all activity, so the games can become motivational beyond getting players to play more. Finally, there is another aspect to the competitive nature of the games, Pidgeon said.

“We’re seeing many devices designed for fitness that are turning workouts into a game to keep the user motivated. In this way, the fitness game comes full circle.”

Kid photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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