MONDAY, March 7, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Interactive video games that require high-energy movement raised middle school kids' metabolisms to levels typically seen with moderate or vigorous exercise, a new study finds.
Researchers evaluated the effect of six forms of so-called "exergaming" on energy expenditure in 39 children of various body-mass indexes (BMIs) at a youth fitness research and training center at the University of Massachusetts.
The children, whose average age was between 11 and 12, had their metabolic rates measured after walking on a treadmill at 3 miles per hour and after 10 minutes on each of six exergames. The digital games included home and commercial versions such as Dance Dance Revolution, Nintendo Wii Boxing, LightSpace Bug Invasion, and Cybex Trazer Goalie Wars, Xavix J-Mat and Sportwall.
The researchers noticed that children with higher BMIs -- which included 21 children who were either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight -- enjoyed the exergames more than children of normal weight, though all of them expended similar amounts of energy.
"They obviously enjoyed all the games a lot and it's another tool for parents and practitioners to use to increase physical activity in children," said study author Bruce W. Bailey, an assistant professor of exercise sciences at Brigham Young University. "As far as energy expenditure, if you choose the right levels and the right games, you can get some decent physical activity."
The study is published in the March 7 online issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Because "screen time" -- the use of television, videos, computers or video games -- is usually sedentary, it has been associated with the nation's 19 percent childhood obesity rate. But, recent interest in activity-promoting video games may be a viable addition to more traditional exercise, Bailey said.
The exergames produced a fourfold to eightfold increase in energy use compared to resting, the study said, and four of the six games tested resulted in higher energy expenditure.
"I think it's interesting and potentially useful," he said. "Will [kids] substitute these games for other games? That's an interesting question. If they can, it would have at least an impact on energy expenditure."
Elizabeth DiRico, an exercise physiologist for Cigna Healthcare in Findlay, Ohio, said Bailey's findings mirrored the results of a similar study she did with college-age students in 2008.
The exergames are "way better" than sedentary digital games and introduce kids to other forms of exercise they may not have tried, said DiRico, who works on health coaching, counseling and preventive care with corporate clients.
"The thing with kids is not only that they're sitting in front of video games, but there's often a lot of mindless snacking going on. This makes it harder to snack while they're doing it," she said. "I think the major thing is that this is an alternate or supplement to traditional exercise plans."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on childhood obesity.