Study Finds E-Games Can Help Curb Youth Obesity

By Sean Cavanagh — January 16, 2013 2 min read
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Among elementary school-aged children, active video games (“e-games”) can have similar benefits as traditional physical education, suggests a study published recently in the journal Games for Health.

As my colleague Bryan Toporek reports, the study, conducted by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, sought to determine if active video games could help inner-city children meet the recommended level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the federal government recommend that children engage in at least 60 minutes of MVPA on a daily basis.

“A lot of people say screen time is a big factor in the rising tide of childhood obesity,” said lead author Todd Miller, an associate professor at the SPHHS, in a statement. “But if a kid hates playing dodge ball but loves DanceDanceRevolution, why not let him work up a sweat playing e-games?”

During the 2010-11 school year, Miller and his colleagues examined 104 students in grades 3-8 (46 boys and 58 girls) from a school in the District of Columbia. The study participants were largely African American (85 percent), and 65 percent qualified for subsidized school lunch.

The children in the study all completed three 20-minute sessions of different physical activities: their traditional physical education class (where they mainly engaged in basketball, dodge ball, obstacle courses, or double-dutch jump roping); Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.,'s DanceDanceRevolution (DDR); and Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure (“Orbis”), a project from Carnegie Mellon University that translates students’ upper- and lower-body motions to a screen through the use of a Nintendo Wii Remote and a floor pad. When playing DDR, students performed three predetermined sets of four songs per set, while the open-natured structure of “Orbis” gave students more control over the pace of the game.

While participating in all three activities, students wore an accelerometer to determine their energy expenditure.

Among the overall study sample, students expended significantly more energy during traditional physical education than they did when playing DDR or “Orbis.” However, the active video games were found to have more of a tangible effect on certain student sub-groups.

When broken down by sex, boys expended the most energy during regular physical education, and showed no significant difference in energy expenditure between DDR and “Orbis.” Girls, on the other hand, showed no significant difference in energy expenditure between physical education and “Orbis.”

Among the boys and girls in grades 3-5, they expended enough energy when performing all three activities to meet the intensity criteria for vigorous activity. Energy expenditure was the highest in traditional physical education for these students, though.

Boys in grades 6-8 expended enough energy in traditional physical education to meet the vigorous activity criteria, but energy expenditure from DDR and “Orbis” was “of modest intensity at best.” Girls in grades 6-8, on the other hand, barely expended enough energy in any of the three activities to meet the criteria for moderate intensity.

See our full report on the study’s findings on the Schooled in Sports blog.

UPDATE: This week Bryan Toporek published an interview with Todd Miller, the study’s lead author. Miller speaks to what research can tell us about whether e-games can encourage physical activity among children.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.