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E-Games Could Be Effective at Combating Youth Obesity, Study Suggests

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Among elementary school-aged children, active video games ("e-games") can have similar benefits as traditional physical education, suggests a study published online Wednesday in the journal Games for Health.

The study, conducted by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), sought to determine if active video games could help inner-city children meet the recommended level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the federal government recommend that children engage in at least 60 minutes of MVPA on a daily basis.

"A lot of people say screen time is a big factor in the rising tide of childhood obesity," said lead author Todd Miller, an associate professor at the SPHHS, in a statement. "But if a kid hates playing dodge ball but loves DanceDanceRevolution, why not let him work up a sweat playing e-games?"

During the 2010-11 school year, Miller and his colleagues examined 104 students in grades 3-8 (46 boys and 58 girls) from a school in the District of Columbia. The study participants were largely African American (85 percent), and 65 percent qualified for subsidized school lunch.

The children in the study all completed three 20-minute sessions of different physical activities: their traditional physical education class (where they mainly engaged in basketball, dodge ball, obstacle courses, or double-dutch jump roping); Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.,'s DanceDanceRevolution (DDR); and Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure ("Orbis"), a project from Carnegie Mellon University that translates students' upper- and lower-body motions to a screen through the use of a Nintendo Wii Remote and a floor pad. When playing DDR, students performed three predetermined sets of four songs per set, while the open-natured structure of "Orbis" gave students more control over the pace of the game.

While participating in all three activities, students wore an accelerometer to determine their energy expenditure.

Among the overall study sample, students expended significantly more energy during traditional physical education than they did when playing DDR or "Orbis." However, the active video games were found to have more of a tangible effect on certain student sub-groups.

When broken down by sex, boys expended the most energy during regular physical education, and showed no significant difference in energy expenditure between DDR and "Orbis." Girls, on the other hand, showed no significant difference in energy expenditure between physical education and "Orbis."

Among the boys and girls in grades 3-5, they expended enough energy when performing all three activities to meet the intensity criteria for vigorous activity. Energy expenditure was the highest in traditional physical education for these students, though.

Boys in grades 6-8 expended enough energy in traditional physical education to meet the vigorous activity criteria, but energy expenditure from DDR and "Orbis" was "of modest intensity at best." Girls in grades 6-8, on the other hand, barely expended enough energy in any of the three activities to meet the criteria for moderate intensity.

Based on their findings, Miller and his colleagues concluded that e-games could serve as a complement to traditional physical education activities, at least for younger children.

"Many of these children live in neighborhoods without safe places to play or ride a bike after school," Miller said in a statement. "If e-games can get them to move in school then maybe they'll play at home too and that change could boost their physical activity to a healthier level."

The study was funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, according to a statement on the SPHHS website.

DDR Coming to a Classroom Near You?

The same week Miller's study was published online, Konami put its DDR Classroom Edition on display at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show. (The company originally announced the Classroom Edition in April 2012.)

What makes this version different from the traditional DDR? In the Classroom Edition, up to 48 students can participate in the same song simultaneously using wireless mat controllers.

In conjunction with UnitedHealthcare, Konami has already launched the game at three schools in Longwood, Fla.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Fresno, Texas.

"With the recent launch of our Classroom Edition and Konami's collaboration with UnitedHealthcare, we see the healthy lifestyle benefits of expanding the active video games or 'exergaming' platform and making this fun, physical activity system available to as many people as possible," said Clara Baum, Konami's senior director of strategic marketing and partnerships, in a statement.

The Classroom Edition doesn't appear to be available to purchase via Konami's online store, so I can't provide exact pricing figures. However, theactivegamingcompany.com is selling different versions of the product (based on number of dance mats included) from $10,000-$19,999. GopherSport.com has the Classroom Edition going from anywhere between $12,999 and $25,999.

You can see the game on display in this video from last year's California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance state conference.

In the spirit of full disclosure: Back in my teenage years, I played DDR frequently. I can't say it definitively helped me stay in shape, but I can vouch for how exhausting the game can be, especially on its highest difficulty level. (You try moving at 300 beats per minute and see how long you can last.)

Photo: A classroom edition of the fitness video game Dance Dance Revolution is demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

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