As the obesity crisis among the teens is looming large, the UK authorities are looking at interactive computer games as one of the solutions.
The hope is that gaming systems like Nintendo Wii would induce more physical activity in the children and thus make them break out of a sedentary lifestyle. A pilot project involving groups of overweight children is on in the East Midlands.
Like many regions of Britain, obesity has risen sharply in the East Midlands, particularly among boys. The proportion of boys who are obese increased from 0.9 per cent in 1995 to 17.3 per cent in 2006, while in girls it rose from 12 per cent to 14.7 per cent in the same period.
Highlighting the new scheme in his annual report, Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, England, said that video gaming was a major cause of overweight and obesity in children and young adults.
He said that as stopping children playing video games was unlikely, studies and public health strategies were now focusing on the way systems could be used to improve health.
Researchers investigating the energy expenditure of sedentary and dynamic, interactive video game play found that the latter could increase the number of calories burnt by 42 per cent. They concluded that if children engaged in active play for 60 minutes a day over a year, they would burn approximately 7.5 lbs of body fat.
The research group includes representatives from GameCity, a street-level programme of activity that celebrates video games and interactive entertainment, Nottingham Trent University, the Department of Health, and clinicians from Nottingham University Hospital.
The first study of 15 children showed that the heart rate can be raised and sustained at moderate to vigorous intensities during active game play.
Energy expenditure of the group — comprising 14 boys and one girl — was determined when at rest, while playing traditional sedentary video games on PlayStation, and while playing interactive multimedia video games — Sony EyeToy and Nintendo Wii Sports. Their heart rate was monitored continuously throughout the 10-minute sampling period.
Researchers concluded that highly interactive games may offer a means of providing the recommended daily physical activity for children while at home. They may also provide an opportunity to increase levels of physical activity in obese children, Sam Lister, Health Editor of Times Online wrote.
The second phase of the study is using gaming systems as an intervention strategy to encourage physical activity. Gaming consoles are being provided to 20 children, members of a support group for overweight and obese children, to use freely over a period of 12 weeks. The researchers said that with many of the children facing barriers to exercise because of their weight, games which can easily be played in the safety of the child's own home offered a possible solution.
Sir Liam said that the second phase of the East Midlands study would be completed in the next few months. "The findings will be used to develop a strategy to encourage behavioural change in children and promote involvement in physical activity," he said.