Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dance Dance Revolution

There was a lot of hoopla last year when, following a successful pilot project conducted the previous year, West Virginia decided the use popular dance game Dance Dance Revolution to supplement underfunded gym programs across its public school system, and respond to the state's massive child obesity problem. The West Virginia Games For Health project has now released the results of a year-long study into the outcome of this initiative, which you can find here, courtesy of Gamasutra. From the article:
The researchers have found that although not all of the children lost weight, the majority did not gain weight while experiencing improvements in their aerobic capacity, blood vessel function and overall fitness level. Just as significantly, their attitudes towards exercise improved as did their self esteem. Murphy pointed out that, "Most of our subjects had historically felt awkward about participating in gym and physical activity at school. After the program, they demonstrated a new sense of confidence and desired to maintain their new found skills."

Dr. Murphy was also quoted as saying:
"This Institutional Review Board approved study has now provided evidence that consistent playing of DDR improves arterial function in overweight children."

Good for West Virginia for finding a fun way to get kids more active, though it's kind of sad to think of the state of affairs that has led to the necessity of such a project. For those of you that are still skeptical about using a video game to increase kids' physical activity (instead of promoting more traditional forms of sport and exercise), I should point out that it is the opinion of one of the project's primary sponsors (the Public Employees Insurance Agency - kinda creepy but predictable that the insurance industry is getting in on this issue) that children in West Virginia do not currently have the same opportunities for healthy eating and exercise as children from more advantaged areas.

The shrinking space for children's play (and mere presence) in public places and urban areas is often ignored as a possible contributor to childhood obesity, but if kids have nowhere to run around and be active, how are they supposed to get any exercise? Opportunities for children's physical activity are often limited to structured activities, such as soccer practice and ballet--which are usually pretty expensive--and gym class, which is severely underfunded in the majority of public schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas. The correlation between socio-economic status and obesity is no coincidence. Not only are unhealthy foods more accessible to lower-income families than the healthy alternatives, but opportunities for exercise, especially in urban areas, are often positively linked with income. Besides which, I'm a big supporter of the "kids' play should be fun" approach.

On the other hand, if you doubt that a video game can be sufficiently active to have any health benefits, check out this kid!

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