A team of University of Mississippi researchers are conducting a study to assess whether Nintendo Wii Fit video game, an exercise game consisting of activities using the Wii Balance Board, can help improve overall family fitness.
If the systems do improve fitness, a byproduct could be a reduction in obesity, said Scott Owens, the lead researcher.
"There has been an upswing in sales of whole body movement video games over the past few years.
"This potentially could help family fitness, so we are looking at the research aspect to see if family fitness improves after purchasing one of these whole body movement game consoles," he added.
The six-month study underway involves eight families in north Mississippi who have been loaned a Nintendo Wii to use for three months.
The study is broken into two parts so that each family's fitness is charted during three months without a Nintendo Wii in the home and three months with the game system in the home.
During that time, each family is evaluated through a number of different fitness measurements, including aerobic fitness, balance, physical activity and body composition.
In addition, each family's fitness before the study was measured through the use of a device that charted the families' movement and physical activity over a period of five days.
Software on the game consoles uses individual profiles to keep track of how much each family member uses the games and how much movement is involved in that use.
And at the end of the study, researchers plan to use the software, along with fitness measurements, to determine if the games made a difference in each family's overall fitness.
Michelle Aten, who works in UM's National Center for Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law is unsure that the system itself can improve family fitness, because much of that depends on finding a physically demanding game that appeals to a wide age range.
She believes the game system could improve family fitness, but it would require coordination and discipline to encourage everyone to participate.
Aten, who was not involved in the study, predicts that improvements in gaming technology could close the competitive gap with "couch potato games" by creating games that, for example, might require the player to walk and run through the game, as well as make moves to sneak around, duck and take cover.