A dozen US research teams were Thursday awarded grants totalling two million dollars (1.3 million euros) to probe how interactive games can make players physically active and spur them to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Grants of up to 200,000 dollars were awarded to 12 research teams from US universities by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a US philanthropic group which has set up a unit called Health Games Research to explore how interactive games can serve as a springboard to better health behavior.
"We have been actively working in this area since 2004," RWJF program officer Chinwe Onyekere told a telephone news conference.
"Over this time, we have heard repeatedly that there is a need for stronger evidence that games can improve health and healthcare and support the growing realization that games can make a real difference in public healthcare in the United States," she said.
"Our vision is that in the coming years we will have a thriving marketplace of well designed, compelling interactive games that draw on this evidence base to become highly engaging and effective tools for improving the health and healthcare of Americans," she said.
The research teams who were awarded the grants are working on projects targeting different age groups and behaviors.
Cornell University in New York will develop its "Mindless Eating Challenge", a mobile phone game for teens that rewards good health habits and food choices.
Maine Medical Center was awarded a grant for its "Family-Based Exergaming with Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)".
The researchers in the northeastern state of Maine "will identify impacts of the popular dance pad game on families with at least one overweight child, aged 9 to 17," Onyekere said.
"The study will assess, over time, players' amount, type and enjoyment of physical activity, quality of life, body mass index and body composition," she said.
"It also will examine family dynamics in the activities they do together and factors that influence their motivation to be physically active."
Union College in New York will conduct a randomized clinical trial of seniors, using a stationary bicycle hooked up to an interactive touch screen, to try to identify what influences exercise behaviors and health outcomes in adults over the age of 50.
At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, researchers will investigate role-playing games designed to enable people diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence to practice skills that can help prevent real-world relapses.
Research teams will investigate "the potential of physical activity video games to serve as innovative, cost-effective ways to help people recover motor skills after experiencing a stroke" or "health impacts of online mobile mini-games for people with type 2 diabetes," among other projects.
A second round of 12 grants will be awarded next year.