Children's weight is influenced by whether they have active video games and if there is a television in the bedroom, according to the results of two new studies.

Active Video Gaming

Children provided with active sport video games had 50 per cent greater reduction in relative weight compared with children who played passive video games. (CBC)

The studies, done separately and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, had different outcomes: children who had television sets in their bedrooms gained weight, while children provided active video games along with information about weight management and nutrition lost weight.

In the first study, researchers from Temple University in Philadelphia, the UnitedHealth Group of Minnesota and the University of Queensland in Australia, conducted a 16-week clinical trial of children from YMCAs and schools in Texas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The study involved 75 children who were deemed overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) averaging 2.15 and ranged in age from 10 to 12 years old. Children on medications that might contribute to their weight loss or gain were excluded from the study.

The children were split into two groups: one was provided a game console, motion capture device (such as Xbox and Kinect) and active sports games, while the other group was given the same hardware but less active games.

Both groups were also provided information about how to manage their weight and weekly goals for their diet, including nutrition advice. During the course of the study, their height and weight were measured at the start and at weeks 8 and 16 of the program.

Participants in the active gaming group were given a motion sensor to wear during their waking hours. The motion sensors provided researchers with information about the intensity of each child’s physical activity during those 16 weeks.

At the end of the study, researchers discovered the group that didn’t get the active games “exhibited little or no change in physical activity” and had lost little weight.

The active gaming group was found to have a 50 per cent greater reduction in relative weight and BMI and was more active overall.

The researchers admit previous studies did not promote the use of active video games in helping children with their weight but conclude that “the greater weight loss associated with the provision of active gaming … represents an important new finding.”   

Researchers said that active sport games “may have helped participants adhere to the program’s dietary intake goals.”

TVs in bedrooms a no-no for kids

By contrast, researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, uncovered a pattern of weight gain when studying children with televisions in their bedroom.

TV & Tots

Children with bedroom TVs gained an average of 0.4 kilogram per year. (Ted S. Warren/ Associated Press)

Some 3,055 children, between the ages of 10 to 14, were surveyed over a four-year period. The study included reports from parents of their child’s height and weight at the start of the study and then at two years and four years. Their BMI was calculated according to age- and sex-standardized BMI scores using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers from 2000.

The children were asked the same questions, which included:

  • Do you have a TV in your bedroom?
  • On school days, how many hours a day do you usually watch TV (excluding video-game playing).
  • On school days, how many hours a day to you usually spend playing video or computer games?
  • How many movies to you watch on TV in a week?

Researchers also examined what they called “parental demanding-ness,” as well as whether the child participated in sports.

Of the children they surveyed: 

  • 59.1 per cent had bedroom televisions.
  • Boys were eight per cent more likely to have a set in their room than girls.
  • Children with bedroom TVs reported that their parents were less demanding.
  • Children with bedroom TVs had an excess BMI gain of 0.24 between the two-year and four-year benchmarks, which translated to 0.4 kilograms/year.

The study concluded that children with televisions in their bedrooms gained more weight than their peers without TV sets “independent of total television viewing.”

Among the reasons for the weight gain, the researchers say, could be the tendency to eat more “calorie-dense foods” while watching the tube owing to suggestive advertising as well as having less sleep because of a TV in the bedroom.

The study concludes that “removing bedroom televisions may be an important step in our nation’s fight against child obesity” and adds that future studies should also examine whether other electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones contribute to weight gain.