The two-year study at The University of Auckland is the world’s most comprehensive investigation into the health benefits of sustained active video-gaming. (Active gaming uses wireless technology to connect controllers, motion sensors, camera and screen allowing software to respond to the players’ movements.)
Funded by the Health Research Council, and in partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, the study investigated the effect of active video gaming on 323 overweight and obese children.
Results showed a small but definite positive effect on body mass index (BMI) among the young active gamers aged between 10 and 14 years compared to their control group. Small but positive effects were also found for snack food consumption and fitness.
Findings built on earlier smaller pilot studies at the University, showing that non-active gaming decreased and active gaming increased by 10 minutes per day for each child.
Principal investigator Dr Ralph Maddison says: “Sedentary activities, such as video gaming, have been shown to be independently associated with obesity. We were keen to see how much active gaming might increase physical activity and improve the body composition of children who were overweight and already well-acquainted with gaming.”
Although the results on body composition were small, Ralph says: “The study findings show that this technology has the potential to be a useful addition to a raft of health interventions. It could have significant implications for how health professionals combat the obesity epidemic or develop rehabilitation programmes.
“Also because of the persuasiveness of this type of technology and the appeal of traditional video games, at an individual level, parents may have more success encouraging the substitution of sedentary video games with more active ones rather than trying to stop children and young people from gaming altogether.”
In addition, the study suggests that active gaming technology may be particularly beneficial in environments where access to the outdoors is limited due to issues such as over-crowding or prolonged and severe Northern Hemisphere winters.
Finally, the study may be a stepping stone for researchers and health professionals to join forces with gaming developers designing a new generation of active health-promoting video games.