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Video Exercise Helps Overweight, Obese Teenagers Lose Weight

"Exergame"  A study co-authored by Georgetown researchers found that "exergames" that require gross motor movement can help combat pediatric obesity and promote weight loss.

August 28, 2012 – The first study demonstrating weight loss from video games that require physical activity has been published online in the journal Obesity by a Georgetown team comprising Amanda Staiano (G’09, G’10), psychology professor Sandra Calvert and Dr. Anisha Abraham.

Staiano, now a postdoctoral fellow at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, worked on the project with Calvert and Abraham, an associate professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center and a visiting scholar at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The analyses examined whether a 20-week exergame intervention could produce weight loss and improve psychosocial outcomes for 54 overweight and obese African-American adolescents ages 15 to 19.

The research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio through its national program, Health Games Research.

Combating Obesity

The authors found that when played cooperatively, “exergames” that require gross motor movement, in this case the Nintendo Wii Active, can help combat the pediatric obesity epidemic.

“These overweight and obese teens who played exergames in teams lost on average 5.5 pounds compared to the control group, whose members actually gained weight during the intervention,” says Staiano, who received her Ph.D. in psychology from Georgetown in 2010. “Given the popularity of video games, these exergames can be a fun and effective tool to engage kids in physical activity and help them achieve a healthy weight.”

No differences in gender were discovered.

Contrasting Studies

The study stands in contrast to one published in February by researchers at the USDA/ Agriculture Research Service Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

That study, however, involved children ages 9 to 12 who were given active video games to play in their homes for seven weeks, without instructions or social support to play the games.

“Homes are littered with exercise equipment that people rarely use,” says Calvert, also director of Georgetown’s Children’s Digital Media Center. “Our positive outcomes, in comparison to the USDA/Baylor College/Texas Children’s Hospital study’s negative results, probably occurred because we took social influences – in this case cooperating with the peer group for a common goal – into consideration. Our study also ran for a much longer time.”

Exergame Program

Sandra Calvert  “Our positive outcomes, in comparison to the USDA/Baylor College/Texas Children’s Hospital study’s negative results, probably occurred because we took social influences – in this case cooperating with the peer group for a common goal – into consideration," says Sandra Calvert, psychology professor and co-author of the Georgetown study.

Participants in the study were recruited from a public high school in Washington, D.C., and randomly assigned to competitive exergames or cooperative exergames or asked to continue normal activities so they could serve as a control group.

All the exergame participants were encouraged to play the Nintendo Wii Active game for 30 to 60 minutes per school day in a lunchtime or after-school program.

Cooperative exergame participants worked with a peer to burn calories and earn points together, while competitive exergame participants competed against peers to expend calories.

Weight Loss, Peer Support

The authors found that cooperative exergame players lost weight while the competitive and control group did not.

The students playing the cooperative exergame cooperatively with their peers lost about 3.6 pounds during the 20-week period. The control group gained about 1.9 pounds, resulting in about a 5.5-pound difference between these groups.

Those who played the exergame competitively stayed at about the same weight they were when the study began.

Cooperative exergame players also significantly increased their confidence in completing goals as compared to the control group, and both exergame conditions significantly increased peer support more than the control group did.

“Motivating obese adolescents can be extremely challenging,” Abraham says. “When we use technology and adopt methods they are already used to and are comfortable with – like video games – the healthy behaviors are more likely to be sustained.”

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