MONTREAL – In the fight against childhood obesity, grim statistics continue to be reported.
One in four children in the U.S. spend at least three hours a day sitting in front of the computer surfing the net but not doing school work – up from 22 per cent in 2003.
Yet as an international conference being held in Montreal this week shows, the news isn’t all bleak. In fact, one of the evils that’s been blamed for contributing toward obesity in children – video games – is now being used to promote physical activity.
Exergaming is a ‘wholesome’ activity that is free of the violence that plagues so many of today’s video games, argues Linda Carson, a professor of physical education at West Virginia University.
It’s called exergaming, video games that spur children (as well as their parents) to use all their limbs rather than only their thumbs.
“When we talk about obesity, we often talk about the fast-food industry,” said Laurette Dube, organizer of the 2008 McGill Health Challenge Think Tank. “But that’s only one side of the equation – the energy-in side. We also have to look at the energy-out side, and that’s why it’s very important to look at ways in which we can reduce kids’ inactive time and increase their share of time that gets them moving.”
Linda Carson, a professor of physical education West Virginia University, acknowledged that exergaming, popularized by such games as Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo’s Wii Sports, is controversial.
“There are some folks who feel that by promoting physical activity through the use of video games, children are being socially isolated or not encouraged to go outside and play,” Carson said. “There are some opponents who say that it takes away from traditional physical education exercise.”
But Carson argued that exergaming is a “wholesome” activity that is free of the violence that plagues so many of today’s video games. With the Wii console, for example, children can simulate snowboarding and many other sports in a safe manner.
Carson and her colleagues have just completed a study showing that obese and overweight children who play exergames don’t gain weight and improve their physiological function.
In her study, Carson created two groups of overweight children. The first group spent 12 weeks with a variety of exergames. The second group continued with their regular routine.
After the 12 weeks were up, the researchers discovered that the children in the second group gained weight. But the children in the exergaming group maintained their weight, while improving their aerobic ability and endothelial capacity (how well the arteries respond to blood flow.)
What’s more, some children in the exergaming group expressed for the first time an interest and confidence in trying out for some outdoor sports, Carson said.
“I think exergaming needs to be recognized as an exciting alternative to traditional physical education,” she added. “There is a lot of value to children having physical activity options in their home and even at school.”
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