Childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles are a huge problem in modern society but in recent years active video games, which require physical movement to play, have been heralded by many as the solution to increasing child fitness. Now new research has contradicted this theory by showing that children who are given access to movement based computer games are no more active than children who are given access to more traditional computer games.
What Did the Study Show?
Many parents believe that simply buying their children active computer games will increase the child’s level of physical activity and fitness. This idea has been propagated by the manufacturers of such games and in controlled laboratory tests it has been proven that these games can increase fitness levels. The new study, carried out by the Baylor College of Medicine in the US, and published in peer reviewed journal Pediatrics, aimed to test the impact of these games in a more realistic setting.
At the beginning of the trial researchers gave each of 84 children between the ages of nine and twelve a new Nintendo Wii video game console. All the children involved in the trial were above average body mass index (BMI). The children were randomly assigned to two groups, one of which was given active games while the other was given inactive games. The children could choose one game from their assigned group at the beginning of the trial, and another after six weeks.
The active games included:
- Active Life: Extreme Challenge
- EA Sports Active
- Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3
- Wii Fit Plus
- Wii Sports
The inactive games included:
- Disney Sing It: Pop Hits
- Madden NFL 10
- Mario Kart Wii
- New Super Mario Bros
- Super Mario Galaxy
To create a realistic situation, children were not told how often to play their games, or which games to play. They were not prevented from acquiring or playing games from the group that they weren’t assigned to. The children all wore an accelerometer to monitor their physical activity at weeks one, six, seven and twelve of the thirteen week trial. They also kept a diary with the help of their parents stating which games they played and for how long.
The results of the trial showed that there was no difference in levels of physical activity between the group that were given active video games and the group that were given inactive games. The researchers studied the average amount of time spent engaged in sedentary, light physical activity or moderate/vigorous physical activity and discovered no differences between the two groups.
Although this was a small trial that can only provide limited conclusions, it does indicate that in a natural situation, simply giving children access to active video games will not increase their levels of physical activity or have a positive impact on their health and fitness.
How Much Exercise do Children Need?
Children need to undertake a reasonable amount of physical activity and should limit the amount of time they spend sitting still watching television, playing video games, or travelling by car. Children between the age of five and eighteen should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical exercise each day. This physical activity should include elements of three different categories:
- Aerobic activities such as walking, dancing, playing tag, riding a bike, running, playing team games such as football, skateboarding, or martial arts.
- Muscle strengthening activities such as climbing, swinging, resistance training, push ups or sit ups, and gymnastics.
- Bone strengthening activity such as running, skipping, hopping, jumping, football, volleyball, and tennis.
Children should take part in physical activity that is appropriate for their age group, and ideally it should be something that they enjoy to maintain their motivation. Encouraging your child to exercise and building physical activity into family life will not only improve their muscle and bone strength and keep their weight under control, it will also help them to discover more about the word and themselves, while increasing their self-confidence.