A young girl stands and plays an active video game, her arms stretched out wide, while her family watches.

Exergaming: A New Way to Combat Childhood Obesity?

November 02, 2021 Written by Bryan Mills, Dietetic Intern — UD Cooperative Extension

Childhood obesity is on the rise. In 2018, about 20 percent of U.S. children aged 6-11 were obese, which rose from 2 percent the year before. There are many reasons for the rise in obesity, including the overconsumption of fast food, sugary beverages and snack foods. Still, one of the biggest reasons for the rise in obesity is the lack of physical activity. Kids just aren’t as physically active as they used to be. Some parents have their reasons for minimizing their child’s time outside. They drive their kids to school or have them take the bus because the school may be too far away, the neighborhoods may not be safe, or it may just be a factor of convenience. As we approach the fall and winter seasons, going outside also may not be an option for many people due to the unbearable colder weather and early sunset. With the variety of different reasons parents have for keeping their children at home, it’s understandable why kids are not getting the time to exercise. Another big reason why kids are not as active today may be due to video game usage.

We as a society are using electronics more than ever before. In fact, the CDC reported that children spend anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day on some kind of electronic device, whether it be video games, television, or smartphones. With the ease of entertainment at our fingertips, we’ve somehow lost communication with the outside world. Parents may not feel it is necessary to send their kids out to play and kids may not want to go out to play because they’re too attached to electronics.

 

Parents may find [exergaming] a great way to bond with their children...

Parents may find [exergaming] a great way to bond with their children...

 

So, where do we go from here? Well, in recent years, physically active video games have seen a rise in popularity. Physically active video games, or exergames, are games that you can get your kid to play at home that gets them up and moving. Although research is building on the effectiveness of physically active video games as a contributor to physical activity, there have been many studies that have shown that playing physically active video games contributes light to moderately intense exercise to overall activity level and a slight reduction of BMI in children. It’s important to remember that the use of physically active video games should be a supplementation rather than a replacement. Children in the age range of 6-11 should still aim to get 1 hour of moderate exercise each day whenever possible. By allowing your child to play one of these games, you don’t have to worry about skipping on a day outside and they don’t have to give up their games, all while they get a potential benefit in increased physical activity.

Boy playing a dancing video game in his living room
Dancing exergames will have you working up a sweat!

Many physically active video games revolve around hobbies such as dancing, sports, or even role-playing. If you like music, a dancing exergame will have you showing off your dance skills as you challenge yourself or other players while you groove to a variety of pop music hits. Dancing exergames will have you working up a sweat and they create the perfect excuse for a Saturday at home. For fans of role-playing games, there are exciting titles out on the market that will have you jog, squat and bounce your way to defeat different bosses. This type of genre is limited in the exergame world but is expected to grow with current production and high demands. Some games may include classic role-playing elements such as customizable outfits and challenging quests to keep your children moving for hours on end. Perhaps your child prefers sports more than dancing or role-playing; there are games that will engage your child as they take on challenges in sports such as golf, tennis, bowling, baseball and boxing. Many sports-based exergames may not be as physically demanding as dancing-based games and they may also offer multiplayer modes.

Parents may find this a great way to bond with their children, as these games are not limited to only children. No matter what type of game sparks the interest of your child, there is an exergame for everyone and the required motion controllers for these types of games will have you performing the action of the hobby as if you were doing it for real.

With the rise of both childhood obesity and electronic use, we need to have efforts in place that benefit both parents and children to increase the amount of exercise our children are getting. Exergames have been shown to reduce BMI and increase physical activity in children despite the new ever-growing phenomenon. Although the use of exergames should be seen as supplementation of exercise rather than a replacement, playing these games may actually help children prevent or combat obesity and they also offer a fun new way to spend time with your child.


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