Posted by: Street | March 13, 2010

Childhood Obesity: Who’s at Fault? Video Games? Junk Food? Parents?

I think it comes as no surprise to any of us that the prevalence of obesity and diabetes can be strongly related to our advancements in technology. From children to adults to the elderly, technology has provided us with convenience and entertainment. An area I would like to focus on is video gaming. When I grew up, the only access we had to video games was Atari and Nintendo. I was fortunate to not be fortunate enough to have these gaming systems at my disposal; furthermore, my fun and activity came from going outside and playing. I think back to all of my friends in the neighborhood who were around to play with me, and most of them have continued to lead active lifestyles.

In the last decade, computer and video game sales have grown by US $5.2 billion, and more than 83% of US children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 years report having video game players in their bedrooms. In a recent European comparative study, electronic games were reported to be used by more than 70% of the children in the survey group. A report from the Data Resource Centre on Child and Adolescent Health compiled survey data from all 50 US states and showed that the highest number of overweight children reside in Washington, DC, which also had the highest proportion of children who spent more than 4 hours daily in front of their video games. This should not be surprising, because the time children spend in screen activities such as television viewing, using computers, and playing electronic games is largely spent seated and has been shown to compete with time spent in otherwise active lifestyle pursuits (Robin R. Mellecker & Alison M. McManus, 2008).

Gaming systems are not going anywhere; it is a multi-billion dollar industry, but I do commend the companies that are revolutionizing the gaming experience. Nintendo recently introduced its Nintendo Wii, where physical activity is integrated into the gaming experience. It is great to see an effort on Nintendo’s part to help provide a solution to the problem they produced. Another game that has received some attention with respect to physical activity is Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).  So, let’s see what these gaming systems are capable of producing in those who choose to avoid reality (can you tell I am not a fan of playing video games.)

I found an interesting study that compared the two gaming systems. The study was conducted in order to provide information regarding the physiological responses to these gaming systems promoting physical activity. The primary new findings were that both the Wii Sports and DDR games elicit increases in energy expenditure, HR, and perceived exertion that are similar to, or even higher than, moderate-intensity walking. Because video and computer gaming is increasing in popularity, it is likely that spending time playing active video games could help counter the effects of sedentary behavior. Thus, there may be some benefit to people who are overweight or obese incorporating active video games into their physical activity plans (Diana L. Graf, 2009). While I think that children should be participating in play activities with much higher intensities than moderate-intensity walking, this does help provide a solution to sedentary children who may be against traditional forms of play (Diana L. Graf, 2009).

A compounding problem to gaming is video game’s ergogenic aids: Mountain Dew and Doritos. If there was professional gaming, these two supplements should be on the banned substance list! Of course, I’m being facetious; however, it is not gaming alone that is at fault here. Nutrition plays an obvious role in the onset of obesity and diabetes. What does this all boil down to in my mind? Educate the parent!

Diana L. Graf, L. V. (2009). Playing Active Video Games Increases Energy Expenditure in Children. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics , 534-540.

Robin R. Mellecker, B., & Alison M. McManus, P. (2008). Energy Expenditure and Cardiovascular Responses to Seated and Active Gaming in Children. Achives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine , 886-891.

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