A unique study published in the online journal BMJ Open has researchers taking electronic games away from children and evaluating the impact on physical activity.

Now that summer has arrived and many pupils are out of school, parents may try to restrict their children from playing video games, to encourage them outside for more exercise.

But would children actually run out to play if their electronic games were taken away?

To answer that question, a team of researchers in Perth, Australia, undertook the first randomized controlled study on whether video games do, in fact, eclipse physical activity.

The study, which lasted 3 years from 2007-2010, followed 56 children, between 10 and 12 years of age, during the after-school hours. Surveillance consisted of three separate 8-week periods with varying conditions:

  • Electronic games at home were banned
  • Traditional sedentary electronic games were permitted
  • Newer active electronic games (such as Sony PlayStation Move or Microsoft Xbox Kinect) were permitted.

During the after-school hours of the study, children wore a device on their hips that measured levels of moderate or vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

The results show that replacing the sedentary games with newer active games caused a compelling 3.2 minute-per-day increase in MVPA, while also creating a 6.2 minute-per-day decrease in sedentary time.

For the scenario in which use of all electronic games was banned, MVPA increased by 3.8 minutes a day and sedentary time decreased by 4.7 minutes a day.

It appears that kids may now have some justification in playing their new Xboxes to satisfy their parents’ wishes for increased physical activity.

While the researchers advise parents that replacing sedentary games with active games is akin to removing all games from the home entirely, they also suggest that the home isn’t the only place for engaging technology.

The researchers said: “While our study focused on the home setting, school offers another opportunity for more active technologies…such as sit-stand desks or active-input electronic media as part of lessons.”

The researchers noted that they were forced to end the study a year earlier than planned because of new game devices that became widely available on the market.

These new games were so technologically different and advanced from their predecessors, they could not be compared with the other active games children used earlier in the study. Since new children were unwilling to continue playing the “outdated” active games, the researchers were forced to stop recruiting new subjects.

Perhaps if future versions of the active games also require kids to do housework, parents may feel even happier about their children staying inside to play video games.