It’s no secret childhood obesity is a big problem, and unhealthy food and a sedentary lifestyle are to blame. Stationary time with television and video games have been called the main problems, but a new study funded by George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services found video games might actually be a big help in the fight against childhood obesity, especially for high-risk inner city children.
Researchers studied a group of children in third to eighth grades at a school in Washington, DC. During normal gym classes, they randomly divided children between between normal phys ed activities, Dance Dance Resolution and Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure and measured their expended energy. The popular Dance Dance Resolution (DDR) has users match their dance steps to the arrows onscreen while Winds of Orbis is a quest game where the player has to run and jump to make his character move. The researchers set specific criteria for vigorous activity and observed the children. On average, the children expended the most energy in their normal gym class activities. But comparing energy expenditures between the children that played the two video games, the kids running, jumping and sliding in Winds of Orbis were more likely to meet the guidelines for vigorous activity.These differences were most noticeable in the younger children, especially boys. Older children were less active, with girls in and approaching their teens the least active subgroup. This was true even among children who played the active video games.
Study organizers focused on inner city children of color because they’re most at risk for childhood obesity and accompanying problems, like type 2 diabetes. They reason that if children live in neighborhoods where it isn’t safe for them to play outside after school, they’re more likely to gain weight. But active video games may combat them and keep them healthy. Hundreds of schools across the country have added active gaming classes to their physical education curricula; the study hopes more schools will follow suit.