Trading in the treadmill for Nintendo

IOWA STATE (US)—A new generation of video games—like Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution—get players up and moving. A new study asks if these games can really help players burn calories and stay fit.

The research is led by Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an Iowa State University assistant professor of food science and human nutrition. Her study of 22 children, ages 10 to 14, shows that a child who plays eight hours of video games a week will burn 1,990 calories (an average of 284 per day) through Nintendo Wii Boxing—or three times as many as the 652 calories they’d burn playing a traditional sedentary video game.

“What I wanted to demonstrate was how many more calories your body can burn by playing Wii as opposed to playing a traditional video game—and it’s quite a lot,” says Lanningham-Foster.

“Even with the Wii boxing game in the training mode, we can get people to basically triple—and sometimes more—the number of calories they burn, relative to if they were playing a more traditional video game,” she says.

Because Wii games allow for multiple players, Lanningham-Foster is now studying the health benefits for families who play the games together at home. She will analyze the amount of movement and the number of calories burned by each family member to determine the game’s overall health benefit.

“What we do is [take] high-precision measurements of their [family members’] energy expenditure, using devices they wear to monitor physical activity and through a technique called doubly-labeled water [enriching water with more hydrogen and oxygen than what’s normally found in nature]—which is really the gold standard method in the field—to measure how many calories they burn,” she explains.

“And then I give them a Nintendo Wii and certain games to play—Wii Fit, which has been out now for more than a year and was one of the first that really made people more aware of their body weight and physical activity; and EA Active, which is more designed for adults as a way to get them in the workout mode in their homes.”

While the results aren’t yet in, Lanningham-Foster already sees the games providing families low-cost home fitness options.

The study, which was published in the June issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Lanningham-Foster conducted the research while she was employed in the Endocrine Research Unit at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

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