Video games are often blamed for an increase in childhood obesity, but a new study suggests that certain types of games may actually assist kids in losing weight. Sports video games that require kids to actively participate may actually offer obese or overweight kids a new tool to help drop those extra pounds.
The 16 - week study, sponsored by United Health Group, showed that overweight kids who expended energy by playing bowling, soccer or track and field video games, compared to those that simply followed a weight loss program, lost more than two and half times their Body Mass Index (BMI). That’s a pretty remarkable loss.
The study was based on a trial weight loss program that the United Health Group launched in 2011. The program is called Join for Me.
Join for Me borrows from the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program, conducted by the National Institutes of Health. It demonstrated that healthy eating and regular exercise along with counseling were more effective than medication at preventing diabetes. The success of that study led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch a similar 16-week program for adults in partnership with the YMCA and UnitedHealth. “Why not use the same winning formula?” says Deneen Vojta, a pediatrician in charge of clinical affairs at UnitedHealth, and a principal investigator on the JOIN for ME study.
Voita and other researchers decided to add sports video games to the weight loss program, hoping it would prod kids, ages 8 to 12, to increase their activity. Of the 75 kids in the program, 34 were given Microsoft’s Xbox 360 consoles and received two games, Kinnect Adventures and Kinnect Sorts.
Notably, children did not receive instructions on how long to use the games. Although Vojta doesn’t know whether the kids exercised the whole time in front of a screen, that group registered an additional 7.4 minutes a day in moderate to vigorous activity, which could translate into a yearly loss of four pounds of fat.
Although the results were impressive, two drawbacks remain; the games and console are expensive and kids often get bored with and tend to stop playing them after awhile.
Vojta is considering offering JOIN for ME online, which could lower costs, and make it more widely available. “No one believes that gaming is going to solve obesity,” she says. “It’s a signal for the health care and gaming industries that although passive screen time contributed to obesity, it could contribute to a solution.”
These kinds of sports games are not a quick fix for kids who typically do not get much exercise, eat a diet high in calories and fat and are overweight or obese. However, entertaining video games that require active physical participation might be a good additional tool to help overweight children slim down.