New research shows that children who play active video games such as Wii are no more physically active overall than children who play sedentary video games.
A child’s dream: being given a brand new video console and game with instructions to go have some fun. This was the scenario for 78 lucky children, aged 9 to 12 years who were given Nintendo Wii consoles and two video games of their choice in a recent study by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Past lab research showed a benefit
The researchers wanted to follow up on research done in the past that pointed to possible fitness benefits from using active video games, such as those available with the Wii system. Past research has focused on laboratory-controlled settings where children play active video games, compared to sedentary video games (or watching TV). These studies generally concluded that active video games burned more calories than sedentary video games.
New research tested in the real world
The Baylor researchers wanted to find out if the results from these studies could be replicated in the real world. To find out, they assigned kids who were all above-average weight to a new Wii video game console with either active games or inactive games. The kids could choose the game they wanted at the start of the study and a new one of the same type after six weeks.
To track the activity level, each child wore an accelerometer on a belt at the waist for five weeks over the 13-week experiment.
No benefit from active video games
“There was no evidence that children receiving two active video games and the peripherals necessary to run them were any more active over a 12-week period than those who received two inactive video games,” the study’s authors concluded.
Although children in the lab studies generated moderate physical activity, they either chose not to play the games that intensely on their own or they compensated for the increased intensity by moving less at other times of the day, the researchers said.
Given the findings, there is no reason to believe that active games offer a public health benefit to children, they said. In other words, the results from those previous studies didn’t translate to the real world of kids.
And, had they been asked, I’m sure the researchers would have sent an apology to all those excited Wii-playing kids out there who thought they’d pulled one over on their parents.