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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Giving children active video games to play while they follow a weight management program boosts their moderate and vigorous activity levels, according to a new study.
Kids who played the active video games also lost more weight than children who only followed the weight management program.
Traditionally, studies have examined what harms may come from children spending long hours sitting and playing video games.
"We thought - if you received active games - maybe we can turn this lemon into lemonade," Dr. Deneen Vojta told Reuters Health.
She is the study's senior author from the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization at the UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
"Wouldn't it be great if instead of beating on kids about screen time we turned screen time into a positive?" she said.
For the new study, the researchers built upon an existing weight loss program for children and their parents that had been found to work.
They recruited 75 overweight and obese Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Texas children who were randomized to one of two groups for a 16-week study period.
Both groups took part in the weight management program at local YMCAs and schools, but one group also received an Xbox game console and two active games.
The Xbox Kinect device captures the child's body movements to operate the game. The games given to the kids in the active gaming group were Kinect Adventures! and Kinect Sports. (Children in the weight-loss program-only group received the same equipment and games at the end of the study).
All the children's activity were recorded using an accelerometer, which measures movement, during the day.
At the start of the study, the children were between the ages of 8 and 12 years old and weighed between 123 and 132 pounds (lbs). About 67 percent of the kids had a body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, that put them in the overweight category for their age groups. The rest of the children were in the obese category.
The researchers found that children in the group that received the active games added about seven minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and about three minutes of vigorous activity to their daily routines over the 16 weeks.
Meanwhile children in the group that only took part in the weight loss program didn't experience a significant change in their activity levels or duration.
Although the difference between groups appears to be small, the researchers write in JAMA Pediatrics, the added activity among the game-users group is equivalent to about 4 lbs of fat lost over a year.
They also found a greater percentage of children in the active-gaming group were no longer in the overweight category by the end of the study. The percentage overweight had dropped a little over 9 percent in the active gaming group versus just under 4 percent in the comparison group.
"Sure enough, the outcomes were very, very good," Vojta said.
The authors note in the paper, however, that they cannot be sure the children sustained their weight loss and increased activity beyond the 16 weeks.
The findings are in keeping with results from a 2012 study that found about one-quarter of 1,200 Canadian high school students played active games. That translated to about an hour of exercise two days a week.
Still, other studies have suggested that active games don't help kids meet the daily recommended dose of physical activity. (see Reuters Health story of February 27, 2012 here: reut.rs/1fAOAMj)
Vojta said they are currently working on incorporating the weight management program into a home-based program, for instance, one that would be administered through the game console.
"In many ways, these home-based active gaming solutions solve two problems," she said.
The games give children and adults the ability to build up a tolerance to exercise in their own homes, she said, and they give people who live in rough or high-crime areas an opportunity to exercise safely.
SOURCE: bit.ly/1nnxx5u JAMA Pediatrics, online March 3, 2014.