55. Excercise Video Games Emerging as New Source of Physical Activity Among Youth

Several researchers have turned to studying the effects of physically active video games (coined 'Exergaming') on children to combat inactivity. This topic has piqued interest due to the increasing popularity of video games in the average household. The Entertainment Software Association collects data and creates an annual report regarding hobbies, specifically video game usage. In its 2016 report, the association found that 63% of households had an individual who regularly played video games. The study defined 'regular' as playing three or more hours per day. While this data was solely collected from American households, it is reasonable to conclude that the results would be the same in other developed countries.

Epidemic: Physical Activity Among Youth Around the World has Been on a Steady Decline 

According to the World Health Organization, children and youth should accumulate at least "60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity," or an equivalent of 13,500 steps per day. The researchers noted in this study that only 9% of boys and 4% of girls in Canada meet this requirement. According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFS&C), roughly only one in three children are physically active in the United States. 

The number of children who do not reach the benchmark for regular physical activity is staggering. There are too many distractions in the age of social media that do not involve physical activity. 

Youth Becoming Couch Potatoes is Causing Problems

Currently, very few children are not meeting the quota of regular physical activity regardless of their video game habits. The PCFS&C report also indicated that one in three high schoolers spend more than three hours a day playing video games and that children now spend more than seven hours a day in front of a screen (whether that be a computer, TV, video games). 

The lack of physical activity in youth has drastic negative impacts. Insufficient physical activity leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Additionally, physical activity is important for cognitive, emotional and social benefits and is good for developing and improving motor functions, creativity and decision-making skills. The youth couch potato culture is alarming. Should this trend continue it can be expected that there will be a massive increase in health related problems due to prolonged inactivity. 

Researchers Combine Video Games and Physical Activity (called 'Exergaming') in an Attempt to Increase Physical Activity in Youth 

There have been several studies done on the effects of physically active video games, all of which use different models of exergaming. A few notable models use commonly recognized video games. One model required the participant to move and tap pads that lit up, much like the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution. The second model consisted of riding a bike to increase the pace of a virtual bike, similar to the model implemented in cycle classes where the faster a person pedals the faster the virtual bike on the screen goes. The third model was boxing against a video simulated opponent, similar to the boxing game made popular in Wii Sports.

While there have already been several studies conducted regarding the effects of exergaming, a recent Canadian study put on a modern twist (relative to previous models) to assess the effects of exergaming. The researchers gave each participant an iPod with a video game on it, the video game uses the iPod's built-in location and accelerometer to require physical movement to play. The participants were also given a Tractivity ankle monitor that monitored the steps taken and duration of activity for the day. This application is very similar to the Pokémon Go game that swept the world over this past summer. Rather than sitting inside and playing Pokémon on their gameboy, people were outside playing the game and walking around. Additionally, this study was unique in that it focused on the effects of physical activity in youth during the school year, when kids are naturally less active. The researchers claim that having an irregular schedule causes "difficulty supervising the participants" and therefore having a structured schedule is beneficial for getting accurate and valid results.

Statistics Derived from Exergaming Research Data Suggests That it Could Help End the Youth Couch Potato Problem

The researchers in the Garde Canadian study hypothesized that the mobile game they installed on their iPods will "...[promote] voluntary physical activity in children." In order to assess data received from the ankle monitor, they split the activity data into four phases each one week long. The participants were randomly selected to receive intervention in either the second or fourth week. The first week was the baseline week. The baseline was used as a comparison to the control or intervention weeks. The second phase was the intervention or control phase, depending on whether or not the participant was selected for intervention that week. The third phase was a washout phase. The washout week acted as a buffer to make sure there were no carryover effects from their respective intervention or control week. Identical to the second week, the fourth week was another control or intervention week depending on who was selected for intervention. During the control week, the researchers did not install the game on the participants' iPod. During the intervention week, the researchers installed the game on the participants' iPod.

The data is telling. Participants had significantly more steps taken during their intervention week than during their control week (as displayed in Figure 1).
Figure 1

The baseline average number of steps for the first week was 12,299 steps. During the intervention week, the participants took an average 14,831 steps, an increase of 20.6% from the baseline. However, during the control week, they took only 11,164 steps, a decrease of 9.2% from the baseline. An increase of 20.6% from the baseline is a significant increase in physical activity.

Therefore, from this primary outcome, the researchers' initial hypothesis was indeed correct - the game did promote voluntary physical activity in the sample population of children.

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