Move, baby, move … healthy kick in video games
By Julie Robotham, Medical EditorApril 15, 2006
PLAYING video games can give boys a physical workout that raises their blood pressure and heart rate and burns as many calories as brisk walking or cycling, US researchers say.
The discovery meant computer gaming - often said to contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic - should no longer be classified as a sedentary pastime, and might even help fight fat, said Arlette Perry, of the University of Miami's exercise and sports sciences department.
In her study - the first on how the bodies of primary school-aged children respond to game play - 21 boys were hooked up to monitors while they played Tekken 3, a mock martial arts contest, on a Sony PlayStation.
Dr Perry told the boys, all avid video gamers aged between seven and 10, that they were competing. The boys' heart rates sped up, they burned up more energy and they began breathing more quickly, although Dr Perry, an exercise physiologist, said the latter was more likely to be from excitement than exertion.
If children opted out of sport in order to spend time playing video games, that might contribute to weight gain, but "if … used to replace time spent watching television or simply resting, video game play can serve to more positively affect energy expenditure", Dr Perry wrote in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. "Video game play is not a passive activity in young children."
Computer and video games are among the most popular leisure activities among Australian children, after watching television and reading.
In an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 2003, 82 per cent of boys and 59 per cent of girls said they played them. Boys were heavier users - 46 per cent devoted at least 10 hours a week to them, compared with 23 per cent of girls.
But Dr Perry cautioned that gaming could not be a substitute for traditional exercise. It had little effect on children's glucose and lactate levels - important for protecting against heart disease - possibly because it did not involve much muscle movement.
Michael Booth, a pediatrician and director of the NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity, criticised Dr Perry's study, saying the children might have been particularly overexcited and fidgety from playing a new game in unfamiliar surroundings, and this might explain their apparent exertion.
The Miami researchers should also have studied the boys in other nominally inactive pastimes to draw more reliable conclusions, he said. "Little boys are Brownian motion. They can't sit still," Dr Booth said.
Marilyn Cullura has no games console in the house. "I'd rather he was out playing with a football," said the Drummoyne mother of her son Daniele.
As Daniele, 11, played with a Microsoft Xbox at the Royal Easter Show yesterday, Ms Cullura was preparing for renewed pressure to let him join the ranks of home gamers. "If he hears they're not a bad thing there'll be trouble," she said.