Can the Wii Make Your Kids Fit?
Over the last decade active video games have been promoted as great tools to get your kids active and off the couch watching television. Many households have purchased Wii Sports and different dance competition games with the intention of getting their kids fit while keeping them entertained. Parents often ask me if there is any truth to the claims made by these gaming companies. Although some research shows that active video games can help by keeping kids moving while at play in their home, the bottom line is that kids benefit more by getting fresh air outside and interacting with other kids.
In order to measure the intensity level of these active video games, researchers look to a value referred to as 1 MET which is defined as the amount of energy required to survive at rest. This equates to approximately 70 calories burned. All other activities are measured in relation to 1 MET. For example, standing is given a value of 1.3 METs, casual walking at work and throughout the day is given a 2.0 MET value while moderate exercise is given a value of 3.0.
According to the journal Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics, scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have found that playing active video games can be as effective for children as moderate exercise.
Another study, funded by Nintendo, demonstrated that about one-third of the virtual physical activities require an energy expenditure of 3.0 METs or above, the value given to moderate-intensity exercise. (American Heart Association November 18, 2009).
At these MET values, it can be argued that active video games may be sufficient to prevent or to improve obesity and lifestyle-related disease such as heart disease and diabetes. However, as you look closer at the numbers, we find that we may be sending the wrong message.
As the daily requirement for kids is 60 minutes of vigorous activity which is given a MET value of 6.0 or higher, it seems as though active video games fall short; between 200-300 less calories burned a day. Over time, this can quickly add up as extra weight on the scale.
On the other hand, active video games may be a great starting point for the extremely sedentary population who need as much motivation as possible to get their body moving.
Go Outside before Playing Inside
In my practice, I recommend implementing these types of games into your kids' lifestyle as an add-on to traditional activity. Active video games simply do not match up to interacting outside with many friends in a game of tag, hide and seek, touch football, road hockey or soccer. These types of activities can be done for long periods of time and can account for MET values of 6.0 or higher.