Science and Health

Active video gaming helps battle child obesity

Updated: 2011-05-31 13:37
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WELLINGTON - Active video gaming using interactive wireless technologies can help obese children shed weight, a New Zealand study found.

The researchers hope the findings could lead to a children's exercise revolution, particularly in parts of the world where children have less access to the outdoors because of overcrowding or severe winters.

The University of Auckland boasted its study was the world's most comprehensive investigation into the health benefits of sustained active video-gaming, which uses wireless technology to connect controllers, motion sensors, camera and screen, allowing software to respond to the players' movements.

The study of 323 overweight and obese children aged 10 to 14 years found "a small but definite positive effect on body mass index" among active gamers, said a statement from the university.

"Small but positive effects" were also found for snack food consumption and fitness.

"Sedentary activities, such as video gaming, have been shown to be independently associated with obesity," said principal investigator Dr Ralph Maddison.

"We were keen to see how much active gaming might increase physical activity and improve the body composition of children who were overweight and already well-acquainted with gaming."

Although the results on body composition were small, the study findings showed the technology had the potential to be a useful tool in "health interventions," said Maddison.

"It could have significant implications for how health professionals combat the obesity epidemic or develop rehabilitation programs.

"Also because of the persuasiveness of this type of technology and the appeal of traditional video games, at an individual level, parents may have more success encouraging the substitution of sedentary video games with more active ones rather than trying to stop children and young people from gaming altogether."

The study suggested active gaming technology could be particularly beneficial in environments where access to the outdoors was limited due to issues such as overcrowding or prolonged and severe Northern Hemisphere winters, said the statement.

It could also encourage researchers and health professionals to join forces with gaming developers designing a new generation of active health-promoting video games.

The study was funded by New Zealand's Health Research Council, and was carried out in partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Researchers at New Zealand's Otago University last week published the results of a study that showed lack of sleep was also a factor contributing to childhood obesity.

The researchers found the amount sleep a person got altered the levels of hormones controlling metabolism and appetite, and therefore how much one ate.