Do active video games help kids improve fitness and manage their weight?
Over the last few years video games have been widely criticized for having negative effects on both the physical and mental health of our children.
However, there is some recent evidence suggesting that in this unique situation, the problem may also be the solution.
Enter active video games.
Obesity in children
Before we dive into the nitty gritty around active video games, I wanted to highlight some rather alarming statistics about childhood obesity.
We cannot shy away from the fact that across the globe, kids are getting fatter.
In Australia and Canada, about 25% of all children aged between 2 and 17 years are classified as being overweight or obese.
And even more scary?
In America this number increases all the way up to 30%.
Which, when we consider the negative physical and mental health implications associated with childhood obesity, is insane.
Are kids getting enough exercise?
The American guidelines of physical activity state (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008) that:
- Both children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
- That the bulk of this 60 minutes should be comprised of either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic activity
- That they also participate in physical activity that places a priority on the strengthening of muscle and bone, on at least 3 days of the week.
They also finish the guidelines with the following statement:
‘it is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.’
In summary, they need to be offered a variety of fun exercises that promote intense physical activity, and that this should equate to at least 420 minutes per week.
Terrifyingly, recent statistics show that less than 25% of children and adolescents meet this recommendation.
What are active video games?
Over the last decade, a new generation of video games (known as active video games or ‘exergames’) have emerged as an innovative way to help prevent childhood obesity.
Active video games integrate exercise and gaming using a digital interface to promote physical activity and discourage sedentary behaviour.
In short, they require you to move your body to play.
One of the more common ones you may have already experienced yourself would be Nintendo’s ‘Wii fit’ – however, over the last few years many more have been developed.
Arguably one of the best things about active video games is that they can be delivered in a variety of settings, can be performed alone or in social situations, and are not impeded by the weather – making them a viable addition to traditional exercise modalities.
But, all in all, there is one key question that needs to be answered.
Are active video games good for children?
Related Article: Kids Need To Move To Improve
Do active video games increase physical activity in children?
So, first and foremost, you might be wondering if active video games actually make children more active – and in general they do, but only by a very small amount (Oliveira, 2020).
In fact, when children adopt the use of active video games, they tend to substitute it for time spent outside doing light physical activity. This ultimately means that their total activity levels remain the same.
However, this isn’t to say that they are not without benefit…
Do active video games reduce obesity?
Interestingly, despite having a minimal effect on activity levels, active video games have been shown to be an effective way to reduce childhood obesity.
Children who adopt active video games tend to see reductions in fat mass, irrespective of the fact that they do not increase their total activity levels.
But how is this possible?
Firstly, it has been hypothesised that active video games promote physical activity that is of a higher intensity than what children would perform normally. This therefore causes an increase in energy expenditure, leading to weight loss.
Secondly, it is believed that the adoption of active video games will also facilitate the adoption of more health positive behaviours (like a positive change in diet, for example). Over time, this increase in health awareness is likely to have a positive impact on weight management.
Pretty cool if you ask me.
Which active video games are best?
But what are the best active video games of the modern era? Well, in my opinion there are a few.
If you do want to start integrating some active video games into your household, the following options are fantastic:
- Wii-Fit (Nintendo Wii)
- Fitness Boxing (Nintendo Switch)
- Mario Tennis Ace (Nintendo Switch)
- Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox one)
- Shape up (Xbox One)
- Just dance (PS4)
While this is far from an exhaustive list, it is a great place to start.
Best active video game tips for parents
Finally, I wanted to outline some useful tips for parents to get kids more active using these types of games:
- Join in: one of the most enjoyable parts of physical activity is the social aspect – and this also holds true for active video games. So, join in and play with your kids!
- Don’t have time restrictions: I would encourage parents to have time restrictions (i.e. one hour per day) on traditional TV and video games but have no time restriction on active video games. This is a simple way to increase their use and get your kids active in the process.
- You can keep it cheap: if you are hesitant to spend a large amount of money on a new console, then don’t. You should be able to get a second-hand Wii console for around 50 dollars, which is a great starting point.
- Put them in a large room: because active video games have you getting up and about, make sure they are placed in a large room. This will not only ensure that nothing gets broken, but with more space available, your kids are going to move more.
- Don’t hide them away: lastly, make sure that your active video games are easily accessible. Rather than hiding them away, leave them open in the lounge room. Having them readily available will make your kids more likely to play them, rather than play non-active games.
As simple as these tips are, they are a great way to introduce active video games into your home.
Take Home Message
With childhood obesity on the rise, we need to find new ways of increasing the energy expenditure of your kids – and active video games are a great option.
By helping them exercise in a fun and interactive way, they have been shown to help facilitate weight loss and keep your kids healthy. Moreover, because they can be used anywhere and in any weather condition, they are the perfect addition to a regular exercise routine.
Related Article: Raising Healthy Kids – The Whole Day Matters
US Department of Health and Human Services. “2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.” http://www. health. gov/paguidelines/ (2008).
Oliveira, Crystian B., et al. “Effects of active video games on children and adolescents: A systematic review with meta‐analysis.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 30.1 (2020): 4-12.