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Active video games may be better than unstructured physical activity

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At a time when video games are being blamed for Children’s lack of interest in physical activity, improper sitting postures, aggressive behaviour, slow mental decay and even obesity, a new research has showed that video games that involve active participation from players may be better for children than unstructured physical activity.

The findings are a result of the study carried out by researchers at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which were recently published in the Games for Health Journal. Researchers suggests that active video games may actually be a source of moderate or intense physical activity in children five to eight years old.

For the researchers, children between the ages of five and eight years old were given three accelerometers–one for the hip and one for each wrist. The reason why accelerometers were fitted on wrists was to better assess upper-body movement, which may be very different in outdoor play compared with playing an active video game.

During the research, which lasted for three weeks, each child was asked to engage in one active video gaming session and one unstructured outdoor playtime. Each of the sessions lasted 20 minutes, and the children were free to stop and rest at any point.

For the active video game session, children were provided with a 40-inch television. the Xbox 360 Kinect, a controller-free gaming system that incorporates the whole body in the game through motion sensors and skeletal tracking and the Kinect Adventures River Rush video game. The reason for chosing this video game was that it involves total body participation, requires no special set of skills to play and was rated E for everyone, by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

As far as the outdoor sessions were concerned, children were asked to play on a playground with two grassy areas, a small paved area, a climbing tree, hula hoops, playground equipment and an assortment of balls. Children were allowed to participate in any type of activity.

Trained observers used the Children’s Activity Rating Scale to record activity levels, and estimated energy expenditure was reported in minute-by-minute counts.

A significant difference between active video gaming and outdoor play was found for the accelerometer located on the hip of participants, with active video gaming having a greater percentage of moderate to vigorous intensity than unstructured outdoor play.

These findings suggest that active video games may be a good source of physical activity for younger children.

“Our study shows video games which wholly engage a child’s body can be a source of physical activity,” said Hollie Raynor, director of UT’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory and associate professor of nutrition. “Previous studies investigating active video games had not investigated the energy expenditure of these games as compared to unstructured outdoor play. The purpose of the study was to compare energy expenditure to unstructured outdoor play.”

“The strengths of the UT study include the use of two measurement tools considered to be very accurate at measuring activity,” said Raynor. “No one else has used measures with this degree of accuracy in comparing active video gaming with outdoor play in young children. We’re not saying video games should replace outdoor play, but there are better choices people can make when choosing the types of video games for their children.”