Friday, 2 March 2012

Games for Health Journal - Insider

Mary Ann Liebert, Publishers

Editor InsightsEditor Insights

The Internet has been abuzz this week due to the surprising results from Tom Baranowski’s team at Baylor, which found that children, left to their own devices, get no more health benefit from exergames than from other videogames. The paper, Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children’s Physical Activity, was published in the Feb. 27 issue of Pediatrics.

According to Reuters who had the initial report on the study, some public health researchers have hoped that active videogames might be an alternative to outdoor play and sports for at least some of the physical activity kids need -- especially for those who live in unsafe neighborhoods where playing outside isn’t always an option.

To test this idea, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, gave Nintendo Wii consoles to children who didn’t already have one. Half of the participants were given their choice of an active game -- such as Wii Sports or DanceDance Revolution-Hottest Party 3 -- and the other half their choice of an inactive game, such as Disney Sing-It Pop Hits or Super Mario Galaxy.

Halfway through the study, the 78 participating children, all nine to 12 years old and above average weight and BMI, were given their choice of a second game from the same category as their first. The research team tracked the youngsters for 13 weeks, testing their physical activity levels with a motion-measuring device called an accelerometer. Results showed that throughout the study period, participants with the active games got no more exercise than those given inactive video games. If one simply refers to this statement of findings, it is a short step toward believing that exergames have no health value.

In fact, the actual conclusion of the study was “results provide no reason to believe that simply
acquiring an active videogame under naturalistic circumstances provides a public health benefit to children.” In other words, like having a bowling ball, simply owning a potentially beneficial asset doesn’t ensure success. It requires coaching for goals, motivation, technique, discipline, and so on.

Many bloggers and the more sensational publications failed to read the fine print of the story which resulted in headlines such as “Wii Motion Gaming Won't Guarantee Better Fitness”, “Just because it's Wii, doesn't mean it's exercise,” and “Study rubbishes Nintendo health benefits”.

The take away from the Baylor study remains powerful. The health benefits and expectations for videogames lie not within the game itself but how one chooses to employ the resource. Medicine sitting on the shelf and untaken; un-followed post-surgery exercise regimens; ignored recommendations for smoking cessation; and exergames without assistance don’t achieve the expected outcomes -- not at the fault of the medication, prescription, advice, or game. So the question becomes, given the resources, how are exergames best supported to achieve the desired results? My sense is that we have not heard the last on this study and, hopefully, other researchers will build on the results of the Baylor study to better understand exergame potentials.

Meanwhile, we have received excellent feedback from our first issue of the Games for Health Journal. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, please visit the website to see the Games for Health Table of Contents and to subscribe.

Warm Regards,

Bill Ferguson, PhD

Bill Ferguson, PhD
Games for Health Journal: Research, Development, and Clinical Applications

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent appraisal of the research implications of this study, thank you Bill.

    What is not covered is the implications to the exergaming industry that underpins the research community. The issue I have with this study is the lack of media awareness of the publisher had led to "bad press" for exergaming, when the actual problems of the study was ignored. The exergaming industry is in the trenches, making it happen for the children of today. We make a difference, make a positive effect on the nations health through our experience and dedication.

    This story's reports undermine the work we have done so far and affects to deliver the benefits of exeragming going forwards.

    I call upon the research sector to work together to redress this mis-representation. After all, how many 9-12 year olds make a buying decision without parental support and guidance into the exciting world of exergaming? We could have helped make this study a keynote instead of a thorn in the side of the industry. The flaw was obvious to me - the effect is unintentional from the research communities point of view but the effect is real.