Giving children active video games to play while they follow a weight management programme boosts their moderate and vigorous activity levels, according to a new study.
Kids who played the active video games also lost more weight than children who only followed the weight management programme.
Read: Video games an alternative to the gym
Traditionally, studies have examined what harms may come from children spending long hours sitting and playing video games. "We thought – if you received active games – maybe we can turn this lemon into lemonade," Dr Deneen Vojta told Reuters Health.
She is the study's senior author from the UnitedHealth Centre for Health Reform and Modernisation at the UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota. "Wouldn't it be great if instead of beating on kids about screen time we turned screen time into a positive?" she said.
Children's activity recorded
For the new study, the researchers built upon an existing weight loss programme for children and their parents that had been found to work.
They recruited 75 overweight and obese Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Texas children who were randomised to one of two groups for a 16-week study period.
Both groups took part in the weight management programme at local YMCAs and schools, but one group also received an Xbox game console and two active games. The Xbox Kinect device captures the child's body movements to operate the game. The games given to the kids in the active gaming group were Kinect Adventures! and Kinect Sports.
(Children in the weight-loss programme-only group received the same equipment and games at the end of the study). All the children's activity was recorded using an accelerometer, which measures movement, during the day.
Overweight and obese
At the start of the study, the children were between the ages of 8 and 12 years old and weighed between 55kg and 59kg.
About 67% of the kids had a body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, that put them in the overweight category for their age groups. The rest of the children were in the obese category.
The researchers found that children in the group that received the active games added about seven minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and about three minutes of vigorous activity to their daily routines over the 16 weeks
Meanwhile children in the group that only took part in the weight loss programme didn't experience a significant change in their activity levels or duration.
Although the difference between groups appears to be small, the researchers write in JAMA Paediatrics, the added activity among the game-users group is equivalent to about 4 lbs of fat lost over a year.
Very good outcomes
They also found a greater percentage of children in the active-gaming group were no longer in the overweight category by the end of the study. The percentage overweight had dropped a little over 9% in the active gaming group versus just under 4% in the comparison group. "Sure enough, the outcomes were very, very good," Vojta said.
The authors note in the paper, however, that they cannot be sure the children sustained their weight loss and increased activity beyond the 16 weeks.
The findings are in keeping with results from a 2012 study that found about one-quarter of 1 200 Canadian high school students played active games. That translated to about an hour of exercise two days a week. Still, other studies have suggested that active games don't help kids meet the daily recommended dose of physical activity.
Vojta said they are currently working on incorporating the weight management programme into a home-based program, for instance, one that would be administered through the game console. "In many ways, these home-based active gaming solutions solve two problems," she said.
The games give children and adults the ability to build up a tolerance to exercise in their own homes, she said, and they give people who live in rough or high-crime areas an opportunity to exercise safely.
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