Technology & Science

Dance video game halts kids' weight gain: study

Parents worried that their children spend too much time playing video games and too little exercising might welcome findings that a popular dance game improved kids' health.

Parents worried that their children spend too much time playing video games and too little exercising might welcome findings that a popular dance game improved kids' health.

West Virginia University researchers havefound that children who regularly played Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) — a game that requires players to follow action onscreen with dance steps on a pressure-sensitive mat — did not gain weight and improved their aerobic capacity, blood vessel function and overall fitness.

In comparison, children who did not play the game gained about 2.7 kilograms after 12 weeks.

Researchers followed 50 children aged 7 to 12 years old over a 24-week period. The children studiedhad a body mass index in the 85th percentile for their age, which means they were among the 15 per cent of children with the highest body mass indexes. Body mass index is a statistical measure of weight in relation to height.

The study, funded by the state's West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency as part of a health and wellness campaign, required children to play the game five days a week for at least 30 minutes.

"We were looking for something that would get the attention of kids and keep them interested," insurance agency spokesman David Bailey told CBC News Online.

Researchers at the Morgantown, W.Va., school tracked weight, blood pressure, body mass index, arterial function, fitness levels and attitudes toward exercise.

"One of earliest indicators of cardiovascular risk is decreased arterial function," Emily Murphy, a pediatric exercise physiologist with the WVU School of Medicine, said in a written statement. Artery walls are lined with endothelial cells that help blood vessels to expand properly when blood flow increases, such as during exercise.

"This … study has now provided evidence that consistent playing of DDR improves arterial function in overweight children," Murphy said.

Insurance agency is installing game at schools

"We are excited that we can now demonstrate that it is a valuable health tool and something kids enjoy," researcher Dr. Linda Carson, a professorin the school of physical education, added in a written statement.

In an e-mail to CBC News Online, Murphy wrote that she plans to submit the study for publication to the Journal of Pediatrics by the end of February.

The insurance agency is in the process of installing video game systems and copies of Konami Corp.'s Dance Dance Revolution in the state's 765 schools and aims to have one in every school by June 2008.

"A lot of kids have convinced their parents to install the video games at home, and although the parents said they were skeptical at first, now they say it's a fun family activity for everyone," Bailey said.