Child obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2012, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it an “epidemic.”
But what if video games could actually help kids lose weight?
A new study by a group of Louisiana researchers is showing how they can actually play a big role in children’s health, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax.
Jerry Walker is a dancing machine, but it’s not all fun and games – there’s a mission behind the 12-year-old’s moves.
“I’m like, “Oh, yes, I am so ready to get in shape. I will get in shape,'” Jerry said.
Jerry’s collecting points for accurate steps, but researchers are collecting more vital information, as part of a study to see whether video games can actually help him lose weight. Researchers purchased Xboxes, then asked Jerry – and other kids like him – to play for one hour, three nights a week. After six months, they’ll measure his weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. For support, kids have to play with a family member. Jerry chose his mom, Marisa.
“Not only do I worry about his health, I worry about mine,” his mother said.
“I think parents should take a moment to ask their children, ‘What do you get excited about?’ And if it seems like the child’s interested in video games, then give one of these active video games a try,” said Dr. Amanda Staiano, who developed the video game study at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“I don’t think we should ever replace outdoor activity with these indoor options. But we should also recognize that we’ve got to provide alternatives for kids, especially during that after-school time when many of them may be alone,” Staiano said.
That’s when kids are spending more time in front of a screen. More than 60 percent of kids between ages eight and 18 play video games for over an hour every day. The government recommends that young people get an hour of daily physical activity, yet only 27 percent meet that goal.
“Well, the problem is when you become obese as a child, you really set yourself up for the rest of your life,” said Dr. Dyan Hes, a pediatrician specializing in childhood obesity. “What I see in my practice is my kids are so sedentary and I’ll do anything to get them to move.”
Two years ago, Pennington researchers conducted their first game experiment with 41 overweight girls between the ages 14 and 18 years old. They found that participants increased bone density, lost body fat and improved their self-confidence.
“One thing that’s the most important thing is self-esteem, so I think the fact that they completed it and felt good about themselves, I think that’s probably the best benefit of all,” Dr. Hes said.
In this second study – funded by the American Heart Association – participants will play at home, but check in with coaches every week.
“I’d love to change how children view physical activity or healthy diets. Working out shouldn’t be a burden or a challenge for people. It should just be part of people’s daily lives,” Staiano said.
For Jerry, that just means more dancing.
“It’s really helping me because I’m starting to lose weight and I’m also having fun with losing weight,” Jerry said.
After this current study is over, researchers are going to check back in with the kids six months later to see if they keep dancing and keep losing weight.