Sunday, March 4, 2007

Exergaming: Can Video Games Be a Solution?

Childhood obesity in our country is already at a staggering thirty percent which many attribute to their more sedentary lifestyle, pervaded by high fructose diets and video games. Contrary to this view, a recent trend in youth fitness programs surprisingly has kids playing video games to work out spawning the term “exergaming”. Exergames are games that consist of a virtual reality or interactive game that requires physical movement to achieve the goal of the game such as Dance Dance Revolution. Schools are integrating exergaming into their P.E departments and private youth gyms are even dedicating their entire programs to it. However researchers are skeptical as there is little empirical data to support the programs and whether they are truly effective toward the goal of reducing the number of obese children. Professionals in the healthcare and exercise education are ambivalent factions of each supporting and supplanting the new movement. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence for long term achievement for, children have responded well and currently the programs seem to be successful.

Proponents of exergaming increasingly include public schooling systems such as Woodside High School. Laura Perdikomatis, the P.E instructor, has introduced the system at their school and claims, “The kids love (Dance Dance Revolution) .. This is the first time in 11 years of teaching P.E. that I've had to kick kids out of class who don't want to stop exercising”. This popularity is an indication of the programs potential; if kids truly enjoy the games and they are affective, it is a great solution. Laura Perdikomatis and many other educators including the entire West Virginia School board, which deployed in 765 public schools, support this movement due the to blaring apparentness of the children’s peaked interest in exercise. They enjoy going to the gym with the exergaming approach and want to “work out” for longer. Regardless of peaked interest and prolonged time in gym class, the question remains, are the games actually benefiting their health?
Currently researchers at the Mayo Clinics at UCSF and at University of Florida discovered that kids do get a workout; as long as they stick with it. Lustig, a researcher from UCSF reports, “he bottom line is if they do it, it works. But the problem is they don't do it…he only thing that works is mandatory exercise” after giving kids the Dance Dance Revolution game and following their progress at home.

Why should it be their responsibility to continue playing on their own? These are the same children who have a serious aversion to physical activity and are obese. Lustig prescribes “mandatory exercise”, well why not make the games mandatory. They have been proven more enjoyable and though the kids may not go home and jump at the chance to play them on their own. At the XRtainment Zone, a private youth gym dedicated to exergaming whose logo is at the top, children are given multiple choices for exergames and are given health and wellness classes to supplement the activity of the games. With encouragement and guidance and a set regiment of playing the games the children will be more likely to stick to the program and enjoy it. Also Lustig only allowed for the use of one game, when many could be rotated allowing for the boredom of the kids to be less of a factor. The use of exergaming is an interesting alternative to regular exercise that promises more enjoyment and hopefully less obesity.

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