Video games and kids go together like biscuits and gravy, but health researchers are trying to figure out whether “active” games can help combat childhood obesity.
A study published last week in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that they can, especially when combined with counseling that teaches young people to make healthier food choices and step up their physical activity.
“What we noticed in working with all these kids is that they didn’t have access to physical activity or they didn’t have the confidence to join and play in sports,” said Deborah Sundal, a UnitedHealth Group senior vice president and co-author of the study. “But many of these kids came back and said, ‘But I love video games.’ ”
The randomized study followed 75 overweight children, ages 8 to 12, during a 16-week period. All took part in a weekly weight-management class at YMCAs and schools. But one group was given an Xbox Kinect game console and full body motion tracker, plus a couple of video games.
All the children ended up losing weight. But those given games where they jumped around, swung their arms and pumped their bodies lost more than twice as much body mass as those who only attended weight-loss classes, and their fitness levels improved, as well.
The video game study used participants in a UnitedHealth program called JOIN for ME, which is offered at YMCAs and schools in six states (none in Minnesota).
The researchers concluded that while the differences might be small, they’re not “trivial,” because even slight changes in activity can have a big effect over time.
Brian Landwehr, who heads a department that develops health gaming at UnitedHealth Group, said it’s important to note that success in the video game study depended on the counseling sessions.
“There’s still a lot of debate as to whether active video games outside of the context of the weight management program will make that kind of impact,” he said, but schools may now try to find new ways to motivate kids, such as using games to get them more interested in gym class.
“They’re a little more interactive and a little less intimidating,” he said.