Video Games and Obesity

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It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that video games and obesity are linked. I have to admit that I am a little jealous and grateful at the same time that the technology of today was not around when I was a child. Video games can be fun and are definitely addictive. Overweight children generally live more sedentary lifestyles and are socially less active. They have more idle time and since video games can be so addictive they find themselves playing games for entertainment. The implications of this is that playing video games could cause obesity rather than obesity being a cause of playing video games.

Comparing video games and obesity to television viewing it would seem fairly obvious that television viewing is the worse of the two evils. Most traditional video games require the use of two hands to operate the game controller. One could theorize that while playing video games children are snacking less and are not exposed to advertisements promoting unhealthy foods. Of course, the downside to this theory is the “pause” button. Additionally studies have shown that heavier children spend more time in sedentary activities than thinner kids do. Children with lower body mass indexes are more likely to use computers for non-game purposes, and their video game usage varies.

Because of video games and obesity the manufacturers of electronic games have had a bad reputation over the years. But just like any good business they have come up with a solution that may very well be an answer to childhood obesity. Integrated game consoles such as Nintendo Wii have opened up a whole new perspective on physical activity. “Children burn more than four times as many calories per minute playing an active video game than playing a seated game, and their heart rate is also significantly higher with the active game”, according to a report in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The Nintendo Wii game is user friendly and entertaining for everyone including spectators. It comes with 5 sports games: bowling, golf, boxing, tennis, and baseball along with other features such as a body mass index calculator and a tracking system for up to 8 users. The game is played by using the controller in a similar fashion as you would a bowling ball or golf club. Another popular game is the XaviX gaming system. Quite similar to the Nintendo Wii system except it also sports games that involve more physical activity such as jogging by use of a gaming mat called the XaviX-J-Mat.

It is refreshing to know that video games and obesity have hope. Video games do come with a price tag but when it comes to your childs health it is worth the investment. Extertainment games could pay for themselves when you consider the savings from medical bills, emergency room visits, and other costs associated with obesity treatment. If you find yourself in a no win situation with the kids and video games this may be a positive solution for the whole family to enjoy. Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, “the power of technological progress can be converted from foe to friend with regard to the health of children” by being tapped to provide a meaningful source of physical activity (Reinberg, HealthDay, 9/1/08; Mellecker/McManus, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, September 2008]). While these may prove to be beneficial, parents should encourage outdoor activity to further help prevent obesity.