The red flag has long been raised for parents – if you let your kids play video games they are going to become obese. This status quo thinking had a lot to do with video game play being a sedentary activity. With the rise in popularity of “exergaming,” mainstream thinking of the ills of the video game world are being turned upside down.
We live in a technology based culture, and for our kids, this is even more pronounced. My 7 year old son could type his name before he could write it! Back in 2004 correlations between TV watching and childhood obesity were everywhere in the media with a spin on causality. As more research has emerged, this once sure thing isn’t so certain. Obese children tend to spend more time being sedentary, watching TV or playing video games, and less time interacting with their peers. They may eat more processed foods and less fresh produce or not get enough sleep. When it comes to the connection between video games and weight, it turns out that most likely; it’s not all or nothing.
Since 85% of American children and adolescents don’t regularly participate in physical activities, efforts to get kids up and moving are becoming more creative and current with the times. One recent study found that encouraging exergaming, especially in adolescent girls, can help to increase physical activity levels.
About 73% of the exergamers in this study were active at levels considered to be moderate to vigorous making their video game time a legitimate workout. Another study found that school aged kids (11-15 years old) who played Dance Central and Kinect Sports Boxing burned as estimated 172 calories per hour more compared to sedentary video game play.
When kids play video games may be just as important as how long they are playing for. Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of obesity. Having a TV in the bedroom has been associated with a greater risk for childhood obesity and new studies show that using any electronics at night, in bedrooms, like cell phones, internet, video games and computers also boosts risk due to sleep disruption.
Tips for keeping your kids’ video game use balanced:
- Limit total screen time like TV, internet and inactive game time to no more than 2 hours a day.
- Encourage “exergames” and active games.
- Participate in active games as a family.
- Keep electronic games and smart phones out of the bedroom.
- Offer healthy snack choices like fruits/veggies or no snacks at all while watching TV/gaming.
- Focus a healthy lifestyle – get to sleep early, drink water, limit junk food, increase fruit and vegetable intake, spend time connecting together – unplugged – as a family.