It's been close to thirty years since video games began their great leap from arcades to living rooms, and for all of those years parents and pediatricians have been counseling that kids spend too much time sitting on the sofa, controllers glued to their hands.
For a time, it seemed that fitness games and motion control could combine the best of both worlds, and have players — especially kids — immersed in a video game and getting some exercise at the same time. Alas, a new study finds, this compromise seems too good to be true.
Researchers in Houston devised a study to see if children who played more physical games got more activity during the day. The researchers gave Wii consoles to 78 kids who didn't already own them. Half of the kids were given "active" games, such as Wii Sports or a recent Dance Dance Revolution title, and the other half were given what we might think of as standard, inactive games like Super Mario Galaxy.
The kids were asked to wear accelerometers for 13 weeks, and the research team used the data from the accelerometers to determine how much physical activity each participant was getting. As Reuters describes:
Participants wore the devices on a belt during four different week-long periods throughout the study, which allowed the research team to determine when they were sedentary or lightly exercising and when they were engaged in moderate-to-vigorous exercise. Kids were generally good at complying with those instructions because if they did, they got to keep the Wii after the study was over.
Accelerometer logs showed that throughout the study period, kids with the active games didn't get any more exercise than those given inactive video games.
At weeks one, six, seven and 12, kids in the active game group got an average of 25 to 28 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day — compared to between 26 and 29 minutes in the inactive video game group.
Researcher Tom Baranowski said that his team was surprised by their findings, telling Reuters, "Frankly we were shocked by the complete lack of difference."
The researchers conclude that active games could have a small cumulative effect on a player's health, weight, and activity level over the course of a year, but help more as a replacement for time spent on sedentary games than as a replacement for regular exercise.