WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Active video games -- such as those that get players to dance -- can encourage inner-city children to be physically active and may reduce their risk of obesity, according to new research.
The study included 104 children in grades three through eight at a Washington, D.C., public school. They were randomly assigned to three 20-minute sessions of their usual gym class or the active video games "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Winds of Orbis: An Active Adventure."
In Dance Dance Revolution, players dance along to music in ever-increasing and complicated patterns. In Winds of Orbis, players take on the role of a virtual superhero who climbs, jumps, slides and goes through other types of active adventures.
Overall, children burned the most energy during regular gym class. But the active video games got children in third, fourth and fifth grades moving enough to achieve recommended levels of vigorous activity, according to the researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
They said their findings, published online Jan. 9 in the journal Games for Health, suggest that active video games might be an effective alternative to traditional gym classes, at least for younger students.
"A lot of people say screen time is a big factor in the rising tide of childhood obesity," study lead author Todd Miller, an associate professor in the department of exercise science, said in a university news release. "But if a kid hates playing dodgeball but loves Dance Dance Revolution, why not let him work up a sweat playing [video] games?"
The researchers noted that several hundred schools in at least 10 states use active video games in physical education classes in an effort to encourage inactive children, especially those who don't like gym class, to get physically active.
This study was the first to focus on active gaming and black and other minority children, who are at high risk of obesity, the researchers noted.
"Many of these children live in neighborhoods without safe places to play or ride a bike after school," Miller said. "If [video] games can get them to move in school then maybe they'll play at home too and that change could boost their physical activity to a healthier level."
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and exercise.