Study: Activity-based games fight obesity

Mayo Clinic researchers put into perspective the amount of extra calories burned by children playing Dance Dance Revolution or EyeToy games.

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It doesn't take a scientist to figure out that playing a heated game of Dance Dance Revolution will burn more calories than sitting on the couch with a controller in hand. However, Mayo Clinic obesity researcher Lorraine Lanningham-Foster wanted to find out exactly how much more energy dancing games require, and her findings were recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

"In this day and time, children really love to play video games," Lanningham-Foster told GameSpot. "And even though we might want children to be outside and engaged in more traditional children's play, I don't think that children are going to abandon video games anytime soon...It's important to look at it this way because video gaming may potentially be a better way for obesity researchers to develop better interventions for children."

Led by Lanningham-Foster, a group of researchers measured the amount of energy expended by 25 children (10 of them mildly obese) in five states of activity. The children were tested sitting while watching television, sitting and playing a traditional game, playing two different types of games that require activity, and then walking on a treadmill at 1.5 miles per hour while watching television. The traditional game was Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure on the PlayStation 2, while the games requiring activity were the EyeToy-compatible Nicktoons Movin' on the PS2 and Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 2 on the Xbox.

The researchers found that children that watched television and played a traditional game used the same amount of energy, while those that played the Jellyfish Jam game on Nicktoons Movin' tripled the calories burned. However, the obese children used five times as much energy as they had when playing a traditional game. For both groups, the most energy-intensive of the activities studied turned out to be Dance Dance Revolution, with the obese children burning six times the calories of sitting still while playing the song "Samba" on speed setting 3 in the game's training mode.

"Activity-promoting video games have the potential to increase energy expenditure in children to a degree similar to that of traditional playtime," the researchers concluded, adding, "We think that converting seat-based screen time to activity-associated screen time is an essential approach for promoting an active environment that is also fun for children."

The study was completed months before Nintendo released its activity-oriented Wii, so Lanningham-Foster and her team couldn't include it in this round of research. However, she said she's fascinated by the system.

"I haven't had a chance to do some studies with it, but it's something I'd love to have the opportunity to do," Lanningham-Foster said. "The technology there is actually quite similar to some of the technology we use to monitor physical activity in children."

The researchers acknowledged that the study group used was small, but they consider the findings sufficient to warrant further studies in randomized trials.

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