There was a moment there a few years back when it looked like video games were finally going to get people healthy. What started with the popularity of Konami’s softshoe extravaganza Dance Dance Revolution peaked with the release of Nintendo’s Wii Fit and imitators like Electronic Arts’ EA Sports Active. These games were huge. Wii Fit sold more than 22.5 million copies in its first two years on shelves. EA Sports Active sold nearly 2 million copies in its first three months. The “exergaming” scene lulled in the past two years but judging by E3 2012 it’s on the way back. Nintendo announced Wii Fit U, a pedometer-equipped update of its popular series, and Microsoft announced a huge partnership with Nike for Nike+ Kinect Training.
Bad news for anyone gearing up to drop pounds with their consoles though: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that active video games don’t cure a sedentary lifestyle.
A new study published in the organizations official journal and detailed in a Sunday report in The New York Times says that even though exercise video games encourage increased activity in laboratory settings, they don’t in the home.
Over 13 weeks, a selection of families with children between 9 and 12-years-old with above average BMIs (body mass indexes) were given Wii consoles. Half were given strenuous games like EA Sport Active, Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit, and others while the other half were given games like Madden NFL 10. All the kids wore accelerometers to measure their activity levels. The conclusion: There is “no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at any time, than children receiving the inactive video games.”
Professor Scott G. Owens of the University of Mississippi said that a study he conducted following Wii Fit’s successful debut in 2008 showed that people lose interest in these games too fast for them to be effective exercise tools. “A major finding was the dramatic drop in daily use after the first six weeks,” he told the Times. He originally presented his findings at the Games for Health conference in 2010.
Surpise: Video game exercise fads are about as effective as any exercise fad, whether its Tae Bo in the late 1990s to the Sanitized Tapeworm fad of the 19th century.
There is an inherent problem with the American Academy of Pediatrics study: The Wii is an old toy to kids. If they want to see if something is legitimately effective, they need to give kids more modern, more popular, technology.