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President's Fitness Council Launches Video-Game Health Challenge

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Video games and "screen time" are often named as culprits for the childhood-obesity epidemic in the United States, but a new federal initiative aims to promote the health benefits that certain video games can provide.

On Monday, alongside U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced the launch of the Active Play Presidential Lifestyle Award (PALA)+ Challenge, which encourages all Americans to track the physical activity they log while playing video games.

The regular Presidential Active Lifestyle Award requires children from ages 6 to 17 to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day, five days a week, for six out of eight weeks. Adults have a 30-minute/day requirement.) Along with the physical activity, PALA participants also must commit to one new eating goal for six of the eight weeks.

With the new PALA+ Challenge, participants can now achieve the physical-activity requirements by playing active video games and log their progress online. A number of ESA member companies, including Nintendo of America, Microsoft Corp., and Sony Computer Entertainment America agreed to incorporate PALA+ features into some of their most popular games.

"The President's Council and ESA recognize the need to embrace technology in the fight against childhood obesity," said Drew Brees, PSCFSN co-chair and quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, in a statement. "Through the Active Play PALA+ Challenge, we are motivating kids and families to adopt a healthy lifestyle by using active video games to achieve PALA+."

To be clear, this challenge specifically excludes "passive" video games, where a gamer can remain sitting and hold a traditional controller. It only includes motion-based games like Sony's MLB 2012: The Show (which makes use of Sony's Playstation Move) or Dance Dance Revolution from Konami Digital Entertainment.

As an avid Dance Dance player back in my youth—no, I'm not kidding—I can personally attest to the physical benefits the game offers. As gamers move toward the tougher difficulties, the game adds more dance steps and tougher rhythms. Throw in some songs at 200+ beats per minute, and your body is flying when playing the toughest songs.

And after a few of those tough songs in a row, don't be surprised if you've broken into a full sweat.

"Active and fitness games are one of the most exciting and fastest-growing segments of our industry, and millions of kids and families have enthusiastically embraced them as a way to get fit and stay healthy," said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, in a statement. "We are proud to work with the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition on this innovative initiative and encourage all Americans to embrace active games as part of a healthy lifestyle."

It's clear that kids these days are getting more screen time than ever. Promoting the health benefits certain games can provide seems like a smart way to confront that reality.

Photo: Students play Microsoft Kinect Sports Season 2 at the launch of the Active Play Presidential Lifestyle Award (PALA)+ Challenge on Monday, April 30. (Entertainment Software Association)

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