Research Compares Health Affects Of Active And Passive Video Games

Gregory Brown
Professor Health, Physical Education and Recreational Studies University of Nebraska at Kearney 308.865.8333

Does use of new “active” electronic games provide physical benefits to pre-teens and teenagers?

Researchers in the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Leisure Studies are comparing how much exercise kids get in electronic dance and sports games, where the participant is physically engaged in the game, to video games that require little exertion.

Gregory Brown, PhD, is principal investigator of the study going on this summer on the UNK campus.  He and his research assistants, Mary Holoubeck and Bryce Abbey, are measuring the changes in oxygen consumption and heart rate, among other measures, of about 30 10-18 year olds.

The researchers start in UNK’s Human Performance Laboratory where baseline data is determined of the subjects’ energy expenditure at-rest and at maximum exertion and their percentage of body fat.

The kids then play the active games.  One game consists of the participants rapidly stepping on a mat to emulate flashing dance steps displayed on a TV screen.  Another test gives the teens a wireless, handheld controller that allows them to simulate playing tennis and boxing.  

The subjects then play traditional digital games where the player sits down and pushes buttons.

Each participant wears a mask that measures oxygen consumption and respiration, a chest strap that monitors heart rate and an accelerometer clipped to a belt that measures overall body movement.  Metabolic rate and physical activity between the games are compared and analyzed.

Brown said the study, funded by UNK, is important because the number of overweight youth has increased almost 300 percent since 1970, at least partially due to sedentary time spent watching television or playing video games.  

Brown is hoping that this study can also shed light on a mysterious new trend where physical activity of both boys and girls decreases just before they enter their teen years.  It is thought that use of inactive digital games are partly to blame.

“Since the trend for youth TV and computer screen time continues to rise, it is important to search for ways to convert sedentary screen time to active screen time,” Brown said.  “Research is needed to determine whether or not active video games are capable of contributing to healthier youth lifestyles,” he said.

Recent electronic games, such as Nintendo Wii, Sony Eye Toy and Dance Dance Revolution, have been promoted as being healthier than traditional sedentary games, Brown said.  Scientific data is needed to substantiate this and, if true, by how much.  

Brown said this research is somewhat groundbreaking as there have been few reliable studies regarding the relationship between active games and health.  One study showed that physical activity increased 168 percent using the Dance Dance Revolution game over sedentary alternatives, but there was a considerable variation in the results, Brown said.  

A study by the Liverpool John Moores University earlier this year showed regular use of Nintendo’s Wii doubled calorie consumption over traditional gaming.  That study showed that United Kingdom kids, on average, spent 12.2 hours a week playing video games.

The results of the UNK study will be released to scientific journals and at national scientific meetings early next year.