A summer camp where young people play video games is perpetuating New Brunswick's problem of childhood obesity, according to one of the province's most well-known promoters of healthy lifestyles among children.
The True Gaming summer camp in Fredericton is operated on the premise that young people can learn a lot by the activities involved in playing video games.
The camp says it promotes a "healthy balance of video game play" as well as "a combination of creative projects, physical activity and social interaction."
Andrew Reimer, the camp's founder, said the idea that playing video games can be good for young people is the reason why gaming is part of the daily activities in his private summer camp.
"It develops problem solving and just-in-time thinking. They have to make decisions at just that time, and so it's a quick responsiveness in that way," Reimer said.
The idea of putting young people in front of television screens even more is not sitting well with Gabriela Tymowski.
Tymowski, a kinesiology professor at the University of New Brunswick, who ran the province's first child obesity clinic, said the video game camp is not encouraging healthy choices.
"It's a bit of an oxymoron to talk about healthy video games. Why don't we talk about healthy activity? Physical activity?" she said.
She said old-fashioned outdoor exercise is what kids need instead of giving them more opportunities to obsess over video screens.
"Kids get off school, they leave the interior environment of the school, the bus, they into the house, open the fridge and then move to the screens," she said.
A recent study by Active Healthy Kids Canada found that kids spend six hours in front of a screen on weekdays and more than seven hours on weekends.
The report also said 59 per cent of kids are sedentary between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and only get 14 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity in that period.
'But unfortunately, while their fingers may be dexterous and moving the rest of their body isn't.' — Gabriela Tymowski, UNB professor
A New Brunswick report found similar trend lines about the unhealthy lifestyles of young people.
The New Brunswick Health Council released its provincial snapshot showing that 28.5 per cent of New Brunswick residents older than 12 are obese, which is 11 percentage points higher than the Canadian average.
The council's report on young people showed that 60 per cent of them spend more than two hours a day on sedentary activities.
And, 40 per cent of young people spend 90 minutes a day in a combination of moderate or hard physical activity. The Canadian Physician Activity Guidelines say children and youth need to spend at least 60 minutes in activities that are of moderate- to vigorous-intensity.
The UNB professor said video game camps do not address the broader issues of obesity in the province.
"Children are interested in video games, they're attracted to them, there's a lot of stimulation there," Tymowski said.
"And so parents are encouraged or want to put their children into an activity that the children will enjoy. But unfortunately, while their fingers may be dexterous and moving the rest of their body isn't."
Popularity spreading to parents
The idea of trying to stifle the popularity of video games is a lost cause, Reimer said.
Gaming is part of the culture of young people so the youth camp organizer said he's designing a program that allows them to take part in activities that they enjoy.
Reimer said these video games also prepare young people to engage with their peers when in school or other social settings.
"I'm not sure exactly how a kid would be able to socially interact nowadays without having any video gaming background. I feel like they'd have a lot harder a time at like public school, because that is the common factor that kids have nowadays to make friends," Reimer said.
The popularity of video games is also spreading to other members of the family.
Carl Callewaeart, an instructor at the Gaming and Animation Institute of Fredericton, said game developers say they recognize the issue and are shifting their approach when it comes to designing new games.
"Game developers know that in the past it was about targeting young kids. But now the parents play too, so now there are family packages," he said.
"And when you play together there's that healthy aspect- because you have quality time together."