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Why Active Video Games can never replace outdoor exercise for kids

Active Video Games

 Active Video GamesThe under-twelve set is not normally much for peer reviewed research, but a report making the rounds today might just find its way into some parent’s inboxes.

A study from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that was recently published in the Games for Health Journal, found that active video games offered by platforms such as WiiFit and XBox Kinect, might actually be legit forms of exercise.

The study compared kids who played on a playground for 20 minutes with those who were strapped with accelerometers on their wrists while they played an active video game for the same amount of time. Researchers found the health benefit was approximately equal.

“Our study shows video games which wholly engage a child’s body can be a source of physical activity,” said Hollie Raynor, director of the University of Temmessee’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory. “Previous studies investigating active video games had not investigated the energy expenditure of these games as compared to unstructured outdoor play. The purpose of the study was to compare energy expenditure to unstructured outdoor play.”

“Dance, Dance” may, in fact, be a revolution, but it’s unclear if it’s a health coup.

But before parents head to Craigslist to sell those skates and basketballs and soccer cleats, they might want to consider a couple things.

First of all, this isn’t the first study into the subject, and other researchers have found the opposite of the University of Tennessee findings to be true.

A study by the Health Promotion Evaluation Unit at the University of Western Australia last year found the reality is that currently popular “exergames” are quickly replaced by a shiny new attraction, be it “Call of Duty”, “The Last of Us” or “Halo Five: Warzone”, and so the long term benefits cannot be accurately measured by a short term study.

There are benefits to outdoor exercise that simply can’t be extended through gaming. “Dance, Dance” may, in fact, be a revolution, but it’s unclear if it’s a health coup.

Playing outside, be it street hockey or bike riding, or ultimate frisbee, also provides the hour of daylight our body’s need each day for hormonal balance.

But by far the most controversial aspect of the debate is socialization. Does the teamwork required to execute a mission in “Call of Duty:Advanced Warfare” translate to getting along in the real world? While video games almost certainly don’t cause spikes in violent crime, as they are sometimes accused, they do add to the staggering amount of screen time most kids have piled up these days. And that screen time is starting to have real consequences, such as increased rates of obesity and, even creepier, an isolation that cuts through learned social cues and more.

A UCLA psychology study found that kids who stared at a screen more often, whether it was a cell phone or television, had a lot more trouble picking up on the kinds of visual cues from others that the rest of us take for granted.

“Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

Yeah, maybe we should keep that soccer ball.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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