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Study: Active Video Gaming Can Help Children Increase Physical Activity And Reduce Weight

Research published online today by the scientific journal JAMA Pediatrics demonstrates that including active video gaming in a 16-week pediatric obesity intervention program resulted in a clinically significant increase in physical activity and a reduction in excess weight among overweight and obese children. The research will be published in the May issue of the journal.

The study shows how incorporating “active gaming” into a pediatric obesity treatment program can be effective in promoting physical activity and addresses the childhood obesity epidemic that is taking a toll on children’s health and the nation’s resources.

All study participants, ages eight to 12, enrolled in JOIN for ME ® , a family-based pediatric weight-management program developed by UnitedHealth Group. This program demonstrated promising results in a study published in Pediatrics (October 2012) and an 18-month follow-up study published in Pediatric Obesity (August 2013).

Half of the participants completed the 16-week program as usual; the other half also received Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect from Microsoft Corp., one active video game at their first session and a second game halfway through the program. All participants explored the benefits of physical activity and set physical-activity goals as part of JOIN for ME. The researchers provided consistent instructions about physical activity to both study groups, meaning the participants who received the Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect did not receive additional instructions on how to use the games or how long to play each day.

Study Results The introduction of an active gaming component to JOIN for ME resulted in a significant increase of 7.5 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous activity, with one-third of that time devoted to vigorous physical activity, compared with the participants who completed JOIN for ME without the gaming component.

All children, regardless of study group, exhibited significant and clinically meaningful reductions in weight, consistent with the original JOIN for ME research. However, providing participants with an active gaming console and a game resulted in a significantly greater (more than 100 percent) reduction in relative weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile, more than doubling the impact of the weight management program and demonstrating that incorporating active video gaming into an evidence-based pediatric weight-management program had positive effects on both physical activity and weight. Although screen time is often considered a contributor to childhood obesity, this study demonstrates that active gaming can be considered “constructive screen time” that can benefit children.

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