Kids should use TVs for fitness by playing so-called "exergames" on their Wii or other consoles. But when they're done, they should turn the damn things off! That is my over-simplified mash-up of two new studies being released today in the medical journal Pediatrics.
One found that relatively active video games such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution legitimately add to kids' weekly exercise routines. The study, which was based on surveys of teenagers in Montreal, Canada, found that so-called exergaming was particularly popular for girls -- who on average played active games twice a week, for 50 minutes a turn. Three-fourths of the gamers played at levels they described as "moderate" or "vigorous" in intensity.
The authors concluded that schools and community centers should evaluate the potential use and promotion of these games to increase exercise levels among youth and to potentially reduce the problem of child and teen obesity. Barriers included the cost of the games for families -- a considerable issue given that childhood obesity is more prevalent for low-income families -- and the boredom and disinterest that can accrue as children play the same games over and over again. The authors recommended finding ways to keep children engaged in exergames by creating competitions and promoting communications with other players.
A second study in Pediatrics examined the potential harm to younger children of leaving televisions on when nobody is watching them. Surveying the parents of U.S. children (8 months to 8 years in age), the authors reported that children receive 232 minutes of background television exposure every day. Background exposure was particularly common for younger and African American children, and in homes with multiple televisions and TVs in bedrooms. The findings were "startling," the authors reported, because there is growing research that this background noise can interfere with child development and health.
The authors recommended that families simply turn off TVs more frequently -- especially during mealtimes and bedtimes.
While the study didn't address this, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it would have found no harm in placing a newspaper in the hands of a child! Hint, hint. Bias, bias ...