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Wii Fit Doesn't Actually Make Kids Fit

Illustration for article titled emWii Fit/em Doesnt Actually Make Kids Fit

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.

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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.

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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.

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Active video games don't mean kids exercise more [Reuters]

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DISCUSSION

The important thing about this study that we seem to be missing out on here is that the kids wore the accelerometers for the whole week, not just the times they were playing the Wii. All this study shows is that the kids who were playing Super Mario Galaxy were then going outside and getting some other physical exercise, whereas those who were playing active games weren't going out to get so much physical exercise elsewhere.

A proper scientific test would have been to simply measure their activity while playing the games and nothing else, because otherwise all you're testing is how much a kid gets up to in a whole week - be that gaming, playing sports, doing gym class at school, reading books etc.

Of course playing Wii Fit or DDR makes you fitter than playing Galaxy, that just goes without saying. The way this report is written suggests that's not the case, when in reality all the report shows is that the kids who played the more passive games then went out and got their physical exercise elsewhere.