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Active Wii games don't boost exercise

28th February 2012

Video games that claim to offer "virtual" physical activity often add no more exercise to a child's day that traditional video games involving car racing or shooting.

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A recent report studied the effects of virtual boxing, bowling and dancing on the Nintendo Wii console, and concluded that children may be no further along with their daily exercise as a result of playing them.

While some of the more active Wii games might burn a few more calories, the effects on the daily needs of children for exercise were negligible, they said.

Players of such games did not clock up any more moderate or vigorous activity than a control group who sat still on the sofa to play games.

Exercise scientist Jacob Barkley of Kent State University in Ohio said he did not believe the Wii could contribute to the 60 minutes of physical activity children need to do daily.

Playing outside is not always an option for some children, especially those who live in unsafe neighborhoods, and the public health research team wanted to see if active video games could contribute to daily exercise.

The research team from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, supplied 78 children who were above average weight with Wii consoles and gave half of them a choice of active games involving dancing or virtual sports.

The other half was given a choice of inactive, traditional games involving hand-eye coordination, or singing.

The children, aged between nine and 12 years old, were able to choose a second game to play from the same category halfway through the study.

They were tracked throughout the course of the 13-week study by researchers led by Tom Baranowski, who tested their physical activity levels with an accelerometer, which measures motion.

The team was able to tell whether study participants were engaging in light exercise, moderate-to-vigorous exercise, or no exercise at all.

Compliance with study instructions was rewarded by the gift of the Wii at the end of the study.

However, there was scant difference in exercise levels between the two groups.

Measured in the first, seventh and 12th weeks of the programme, the children in the active group were getting an average of 25-28 minutes' moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.

The control group using the inactive games clocked up slightly more activity, averaging 26-29 minutes a day.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers said they were shocked by the complete lack of difference between the two groups, as they had expected the active video games to lead to an overall increase in activity.



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