First study shows overweight and obese youth can lose weight from active videogames, or exergames

April 23, 2013, The Wall Street Journal

While most parents have to compete with the videogame console to ensure their kids get enough exercise, new, groundbreaking research published in the scientific journal, Obesity, makes an argument for a certain kind of video game: active videogames, also known as exergames. These games are a form of exercise and rely on technology to track the body’s movement and reaction.

“Faced with a pediatric obesity crisis, our nation urgently needs sustainable physical activities that promote healthy weight in youth,” said study author Amanda Staiano, Ph.D., of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. “In the past, light-to-moderate energy expenditure has been documented during exergame play; however, this is the first study to demonstrate weight loss among teenagers as a result.”

The goal of the study, Adolescent Exergame Play for Weight Loss and Psychosocial Improvement: A Controlled Physical Activity Intervention, was to identify effective ways to encourage adolescents to be more physically active through videogames. Researchers, Sandra Calvert, Ph.D., and Anisha Abraham, MD, of Georgetown University, along with Staiano, found that, not only do exergames support weight loss for this population, but that when adolescents work together as a team, they are more effective in using this technological tool to lose weight.

The study was conducted on 54 overweight and obese African-American adolescents ages 15-19 and showed improvements in weight loss and psychosocial outcomes over a 20-week time period. Researchers encouraged participants to play the EA Sports Active game for Nintendo Wii for 30-60 minutes per school day in a lunch-time or afterschool program. The exergame participants, who worked with a peer to earn points, lost significantly more weight than the control group — over five pounds more. They also showed improvements in self-efficacy and peer support.

“It’s no secret that many teens in the United Sates are affected by obesity and face the challenges that often come with the disease, such as high blood pressure, prediabetes, and poor self-esteem,” said Harvey Grill, Ph.D., president of The Obesity Society. “During the past 30 years, adolescent obesity has more than tripled. Parents, policy makers, healthcare professionals, and educators alike are looking for new, exciting ways to engage our youth in healthier habits, including exercise. It’s great to see that exergame play can be an effective method to help adolescents lose weight.”

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