Playing video games like Wii Fit Plus and Dance Dance Revolution does not increase children’s physical activity levels, according to a just-published study in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
87 children between the ages of 9 and 12 participated in the study. They were assigned either to play “active” video games such as “Wii Fit Plus” and “Dance Dance Revolution,” or two “inactive” games as “Mario Kart Wii” and “Madden NFL 10.” “Active” video games were defined as those in which children “actually do physical activity while playing, such as, dancing, interactive bowling, boxing, tennis or baseball.” In contrast, “inactive” video games do not require physical to play (well, beyond moving one’s fingers to operate the controls).
Any increase in physical activity that the children had while playing the active video games did not carry over into other activities. Indeed, the researchers suggested that playing active video games could have a negative effect on children’s overall physical activity:
…because of the physical activity they were performing while playing the games, the children were less likely to be active at other times, such as, playing outside with their friends, or joining a sports team, because they would rather be inside playing video games.
Video games of whatever kind are not (says the study) conducive to getting children to be more physically active. To get kids moving, perhaps the best thing to do is exactly that: Have them get up and in motion, whether inside or outside.
In the wake of the study, researchers are questioning whether active video games provide a “public health benefit to children.” Rather than investing in Wii units and software — as more than a few school districts indeed have — the study suggests that educators would do well rather to get good old-fashioned equipment (balls, gym mats…) and create spaces in schools for children to engage in such physical activities.
Nonetheless, while noting that I find physical activities such as walking and running — preferably outdoors — the best sorts of exercise for my teenage autistic son, educators have found “active” video games beneficial for students with disabilities in special education programs. Many sports and other physical activities may be extra-challenging for such students, due to physical disabilities and intellectual functioning. Too many students with disabilities tend to be overweight and using a Wii may be the best, or the only, way to get such students exercising. “Active” video games can have their uses.
Photo by chipgriffin