Perhaps kids would go outside and play more often if they weren't playing video games. Or perhaps they would get more exercise if they played active video games. Or maybe both are true!
A recent study found that kids got more exercise and sat around less often when traditional video game consoles were removed altogether or replaced with active video game consoles.
Active video games are ones that require physical movement, such as dance pad games or games in which the child runs or jumps.
The changes seen in this study were small — a few minutes more each day of physical activity and a few minutes less of sitting around. But the minutes can add up over time.
This study, led by Leon M. Straker, Chair of the Human Movement and Rehabilitation Program of Research at Curtin University in Australia, aimed to find out whether playing active video games instead of traditional ones influenced children's physical activity levels.
The researchers conducted an experiment over six months that began with 74 children, aged 10 to 12.
After excluding those who dropped out and those who did not have enough data, the study concluded with 56 children who had enough data to be included in the analysis.
The children each experienced three different scenarios for eight weeks each but in a different (random) order.
For one eight-week period, one group of children had no access to video games. Another group during this time was provided with a Sony Playstation 2 and each child's choice of six non-violent games that used a regular game controller.
A third group during this period was provided with a PlayStation 2 with EyeToy and dance mat and each child's choice of six games. The children in the video game groups could switch out their games halfway through the eight weeks.
At the end of the eight weeks, the experimental situations were randomly alternated among the children so that each child ended up experiencing each scenario over three different eight-week periods.
The eight-week periods were staggered across different seasons of the year to take into account differences that might occur in physical activity based on the weather or daylight.
The children kept diaries of their physical activity during each eight-week period. They also wore an accelerometer that measured their physical activity.
These measurements took place for 10 days before each eight-week trial so the researchers had data to start with for comparisons.
After the experiment was over, a comparison of the children's overall physical activity in 15-minute increments across each week did not show much difference between groups based on the scenario they were in.
However, on a day by day basis, the researchers did find differences between situations in smaller time amounts.
Children who had no access to video games engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity about 3.8 minutes more a day than when they had a traditional video game console at home.
Having no video game also resulted in an average 4.7 minutes less of sitting down after school than when kids had the PlayStation at home.
Having the PlayStation with active games had a similar effect. Children were moderately to vigorously active an average 3.2 more minutes a day with the active video games than with the traditional video games.
The kids also had an average 6.2 minutes less of sedentary (inactive) time after school if they had the active video game console instead of the traditional one.
These times were based on the accelerometer readings, but the children's activity diaries showed a similar pattern.
"Removal of sedentary electronic games from the child’s home and replacing these with active electronic games both resulted in small, objectively measured improvements in after-school activity and sedentary time," the authors wrote.
"Parents can be advised that replacing sedentary electronic games with active electronic games is likely to have the same effect as removing all electronic games," they wrote.
This study was published July 1 in the journal BMJ Open.
The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC).
The authors reported no conflicts of interest other than having additional fellowship funds from the NHMRC.