Active video games that involve leaping or swinging the arms can help control the weight of obese children, a large New Zealand study has found.
The Auckland University study of 320 children aged 10 to 14 found that encouraging them to play active video games has a small but definite effect on body mass index, a measure of weight in relation to height.
Participants had to have a PlayStation 3. Half were given an EyeToy kit with various games such as dancing, tennis and boxing. The EyeToy tracks the game-player's body movements and integrates them into the game.
The children - the intervention group - were told that if they hadn't met the recommendation for an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on most days, they could achieve some of it with active video game play.
On average, all the children put on weight during the six-month study period, as expected, but the intervention group grew by nearly 1kg less.
In New Zealand, one-third of children are overweight or obese, reflecting the epidemic of excess weight afflicting most developed countries.
Researchers are casting around, with little certain success so far, to reverse the 30-year trend which is linked to screen use, car transport and changes in the food supply to more energy-dense foods.
The researchers' journal paper says: "Although the effect on BMI was small, it was consistent with slowing weight gain so children grow into their height, the management approach recommended in clinical guidelines.
"As such, the intervention may be a useful addition to [other] strategies, although it is unlikely to be clinically useful if used in isolation."
The lead researcher, Dr Ralph Maddison, said sedentary activities like video gaming were independently associated with obesity.
" ... parents may have more success encouraging the substitution of sedentary video games with more active ones, instead of trying to stop children and young people from gaming altogether."
The study has been published in a US nutrition journal.
SONS HAVE EYE FOR EXERCISE
Emmanuel Paul's three sons are keen video gamers.
But he is glad the family has added an active gaming format to their PlayStation, even though his sons are physically active and he has no concerns about their weight.
The traditional PlayStation exercises only the fingers, thumbs and eyes. The EyeToy active format encourages all kinds of movement.
Elijah, aged 5, attends Royal Oak Primary School, Matthew, 13, Mt Roskill Grammar, and Mark, 18, is an Auckland University student.
Mr Paul said PlayStation gaming was permitted only during holidays and occasionally on Sundays in their Mt Albert home. The older boys often played a non-active soccer game, while Elijah mainly played active games.
Mr Paul said EyeToy was better than sitting watching television. "It's quite good because they get the exercise."