16 July 2012

Wii nunchuks may make screen time healthier

Active video games might help people burn more kilojoules, but those who play active games tend to undo most of the difference if there's junk food available, says a new study.


Active video games might help people burn more kilojoules than couch-based screen time, but those who play active games tend to undo most of the difference if there's junk food available, says a new study.

Those active gamers tended to eat more kilojoules than they spent dancing, playing hockey, and drumming. They took in an average of 1579kJ more than they burned, compared to about a 2730kJ surplus among the inactive groups.

Although small, these differences can mean a lot in terms of energy balance when they are multiplied over days, weeks and years, Dr Scott Leatherdale at the University of Waterloo in Canada who has studied the effects of video games on energy use but was not involved in the study.

Watching TV increases eating

"There have been a couple of studies that have shown that TV watching and video playing increase eating, and they increase eating when compared to doing nothing," said Dr Elizabeth Lyons, who led the study at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

For the new study, Lyons and her team assigned 120 experienced gamers aged 18 to 35, randomly, to watch TV, or to play sedentary or active video games.

They asked them not to eat for two hours before the mealtime-scheduled appointments, recorded their appetite level before each session began, and then observed them playing games or watching TV for an hour.

Subjects could watch shows including 30 Rock and The Office, or play games such as Street Fighter IV to Dance Dance Revolution: Universe 2. Chocolate, chips, dried fruits and nuts and sodas were within easy reach.

There was reason to believe that people would eat less if they were playing active games, said Lyons, "because it's physically difficult to eat while you're holding things, and while you're busier."

Active video games better

Yet when Lyons and her team looked at the difference between the groups, they found that while sedentary video gamers ate the most, averaging more than 3137kJ during the hour long session, active gamers ate only slightly less, eating 2322kJ on average.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, surprised researchers.

"People will always find a way to eat," said Lyons. "No matter what group they were in they still ate a remarkable amount."

Overall, study participants took in 2822kJ during the one hour session, about a third of the daily intake recommended for women by the US Department of Agriculture, and just under a quarter of what's recommended for men.

Men tended to eat more than women, with some men eating in excess of 4200kJ as they played sedentary video games. Heavier gamers ate no more than lighter participants.

'Not an adequate substitute'

For Jacob Barkley, an exercise scientist at Kent State University, the findings still add to evidence that motion controlled games are not a fix for inactivity.

"It's not an adequate substitute for traditional physical activity, like a child going outside and playing in the yard, or an adult going to the gym, but it seems like a better alternative than watching TV or playing a traditional video."

But the study did have some limitations, said Leatherdale.

Barkley agreed. "If you're at home playing this game would you see the same kind of caloric intake? You wouldn't have the buffet of snacks available to you, which increases consumption."

"What we're finding more and more is that TV is uniquely awful for you," said Lyons. So even replacing a portion of your viewing time with an active game could be beneficial, she said.

"But the recommendation is: Get that food away from you! Don't have it on the couch with you, because you'll look up 10 minutes later and it'll be gone."

(Reuters Health, July 2012)

Read More:

Dieting may lower breast cancer risk

Dieting on the cheap


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Contraceptives and you »

Scientists create new contraceptive from seaweed Poor long-term birth control training leads to 'accidents'

7 birth control myths you should stop believing

Will the Pill make you gain weight? Can you fall pregnant while breastfeeding? We bust seven common myths about birth control.

Your digestive health »

Causes of digestive disorders 9 habits that could hurt your digestive system

Your tummy rumblings might help diagnose bowel disorder

With the assistance of an 'acoustic belt', doctors can now determine the cause of your tummy troubles.