Playing active video games doesn’t lead to increased daily physical activity levels

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Active Healthy Kids Canada released a position stand this morning on active gaming as a means of increasing physical activity (full disclosure: I wasn’t involved in the process, although various labmates/colleagues of mine were).  When it comes to the health impact of active gaming, my views are nicely summarized by the below parody of a Wii Fit commercial, which Peter posted a few years ago on ObesityPanacea.com.  In short, I don’t think they are all that helpful in getting the “typical” Canadian kid to be more active (more below on specific populations of kids who may benefit).

The current position stand was based on a systematic review of the current evidence, similar to the one used to inform Canada’s sedentary behaviour and physical activity guidelines.   Generally speaking, it seems that the authors of the Active Healthy Kids Canada position stand are in agreement with me that active games are not so helpful. Their not-so-subtle title (their emphasis): “Active Healthy Kids Canada does not recommend active video games as a strategy to help kids be more physically active”.

The position itself:

Active Healthy Kids Canada does not recommend active video games as a strategy to help kids be more physically active.

  • Playing active video games doesn’t lead to increased overall daily physical activity levels.
  • Active video games may get heart rates up, but they’re not significantly helping kids get to the 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity required each day.
  • Kids find active video games appealing, but the appeal wears off over time and many don’t stick with them.
  • Active video games don’t offer the fresh air, vitamin D, connection with nature and social interactions that come with outdoor active play.

Their recommendations (my emphasis):

  • Active video games are a good way to break up sedentary time, like sitting on the couch, but not as good as playing real active games or sports.
  • Enjoy playing active video games with your kids, and let them enjoy playing them with their friends, but don’t misunderstand this as a replacement of real physical activity.
  • If money is spent on active video games as a means of exercise, it might be better spent on skipping ropes, balls, ice skates or other sporting equipment.

I think it’s worthwhile noting that the position stand does not say that kids should never play active games (I’m trying to proactively prevent this from coming up in the comments).  Parents just shouldn’t confuse active gaming time with “real” physical activity.  Yes, active games may get your heart rate up for a few minutes, but when researchers have measured kids’ activity levels, they find that the introduction of active video games don’t have an impact on total daily activity levels.  Kids also tend to lose interest in the games fairly quickly.

The statement also notes that there are specific situations where kids are likely to benefit from active games:

  • In kids with developmental delays, movement challenges or injuries, active video games can be used to help teach motor skills, improve movement and rehabilitate.

So there are some specific niches where these devices may help kids to become more active, but the evidence suggests that it’s not going to help kids with typical development increase their activity levels.

AHKC has produced the below video outlining their position (email subscribers can view the video on our website).

And you can find all sorts of information about the position stand on the AHKC website.  Papers outlining the systematic review that led to this position stand and the process of creating the position itself will hopefully be published in the near future.

Travis

 

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