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Can “Active” Gaming Systems Get Kids Fit?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Donna Davis, PhD, University of Oregon, Portland School of Journalism and Communication

Have you tried the motion-controlled gaming systems (such as Wii or Kinect) that are so popular these days? As long as you don’t knock over and break the lamp, they can be pretty entertaining. Plus, it does at least feel like you and the kids might be getting a bit of exercise….right?

But do these new games really increase children’s overall physical activity levels? A recent study used an interesting approach to discover more.

Active Gaming Compared to Passive and No Gaming

Fifty-six children between the ages of 10 and 12 were divided into three groups. Some were given traditional electronic gaming systems (without motion-controlled features), some were given active gaming systems with motion control, and some had all electronic gaming systems removed from their homes. The children then wore special devices called accelerometers that tracked their physical activity for eight weeks.

Not Many Differences Found

On the whole, the overall amount of physical activity the children got did not differ by group. However, the researchers did see some small changes during the important after-school period, when much of children’s leisure time occurs. Children without any gaming systems and children with only active gaming systems got slightly more exercise during this part of the day than children with passive gaming systems.

These findings suggest that some minor changes could occur during this time of day if parents remove passive video games or switch kids to active ones. Children who typically sit on the couch for screen time are perhaps likely to do something more active, or at least get more time on their feet or moving around. (But they may “make up for it” by being less active later.)

Other Changes Matter More

In fact, the more compelling finding might be that the children in the study were inactive an average of eight hours each day, with three of those hours spent in front of a screen! And this is far from abnormal, with other studies registering even higher numbers.

It’s often challenging to get children away from the screens, so families may see motion-based video games as a win-win solution. However, these gaming systems, while probably better than the alternative, aren’t likely to really solve the problem.

Instead, parents may want to consider limiting screentime while trying new ways to get the family active and moving together. For ideas on how to make this happen, visit the resources in Further Reading.

Further Reading

How to Set Screen Rules That Stick

Tips to Reduce Screen Time

TV and Kids: How to Cut Screen Time

Screen Free Activities and Resources

Reduce Screen Time

101 Screenfree Activities


Straker, L. M., Abbott, R. A., & Smith, A. J. (2013). To remove or to replace traditional electronic games? A crossover randomised controlled trial on the impact of removing or replacing home access to electronic games on physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children aged 10–12 years. BMJ Open, 3, e002629. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002629

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2013). Active vs. passive video gaming systems. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)

Photo Credits: AndreyPopov/iStock/Thinkstock