When playing an active video game, children burn calories at over four times the rate that they do when playing a seated game. Additionally, their heart rate increases significantly. These conclusions were released on September 1, 2008 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals

As gaming becomes the most popular leisure-time activity for school-aged children, video game sales have increased by $5.2 billion in the last decade, according to the background information in the article. Additionally, over 83% of children in the US between the ages of 8 and 18 have video game consoles in their bedrooms. The alarming increase in obesity rates that coincides with this trend may not be a coincidence, as seated video games may contribute to time spent sedentary rather than active.

Recently, active “entertainment” gaming systems have been introduced to the market. The authors point out: A recent active gaming concept that allows players to experience various activities (e.g., bowling, fishing, tennis, golf) in a virtual world is the XaviX gaming system (SSD Company Ltd., Shiga, Japan). ” They continue, “In addition to the exercise gaming modalities, the XaviX system includes a gaming mat (XaviX J-Mat) that allows participants to travel the streets of Hong Kong at a walk or a run, avoiding obstacles and stamping out ninjas.”

To investigate the potential health effects of these active games on children, Robin R. Mellecker, B.Sc., and Alison M. McManus, Ph.D., of the Institute of Human Performance, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, measured the heart rate and energy expenditure of 18 subjects between the ages of 6 and 12 years old (average age of 9.6) over the course of a 25 minute game. The participants were rested for five minutes, then with intermittent five minute rest periods, were given an active bowling game and an action/running game for five minutes each.

In comparison with their resting rates, the children burned 39% more calories per minute when they were playing a seated game. They burned 98% more calories than resting when they played active bowling, and 451% more calories during the action/running game. When compared with the seated gaming, a total additional 0.6 calories per minute were burnt playing active bowling, and an additional 3.9 more calories per minute were born in the action/running game. The authors note the significance of these increased responses: “”This translates into a more than four-fold increase in energy expenditure for the XaviX J-Mat game,” they say. “Preventing weight gain requires an energy adjustment of approximately 150 kilocalories [calories] per day. The four-fold increase in energy expenditure when playing on the XaviX J-Mat would fill the proposed energy gap, if this game were played for 35 minutes a day.”

Examining the heart rates of the subjects, the active gaming caused increased response over the rest as well. This was 20 additional beats per minute for the active bowling and 79 additional beats per minute for the action/running game.

The importance of this is clear, according to the authors. “Our data demonstrate that the two active gaming formats result in meaningful increases in energy expenditure compared with the seated screen environment,” the authors conclude. “The next step is to test whether active gaming interventions can provide sustainable increases in childhood physical activity.”

Russell R. Pate, Ph.D., of the University of South Carolina School of Public Health, Columbia, contributed an accompanying editorial in which he points out the promise of this work for combating the obesity epidemic. “[These] findings show that kids who play the new generation of video games requiring physical activity expend energy at levels that could help to prevent overweight,” he says. “This observation is important because electronic entertainment is not going away. So, if we want to promote physical activity in the context of contemporary society, we will have to fight fire with fire. Physically active video gaming may be part of the antidote to the poisonous growth of sedentary entertainment.”

“Some previous research has shown that reducing sedentary entertainment can beneficially affect body composition in youth, so there is support for the efficacy of this approach,” he continues. “What is lacking is a clear sense of how we can take this strategy to the population level. Substituting physically active video gaming for sedentary gaming is an attractive option. The economics of this strategy could work at the societal level. If that proves to be true, the video gaming industry and the kids themselves will solve the problem. We ought to find out if they will.”

Energy Expenditure and Cardiovascular Responses to Seated and Active Gaming in Children
Robin R. Mellecker, BSc; Alison M. McManus, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(9):886-891.
Click Here For Abstract

Physically Active Video Gaming: An Effective Strategy for Obesity Prevention?
Russell R. Pate, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(9):895-896.
Click Here For Article Excerpt

Written by Anna Sophia McKenney