Yes, says a new study in the journal Pediatrics, though only if they are the kind of kids who are otherwise sedentary and at high risk for obesity and diabetes.
Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found that playing active video games like the Wii can be an effective substitute for moderate exercise. No one is saying children should stop playing outside or doing real exercise but active video games can be a suitable alternative at times. Basically, if an obese child is going to sit around and play video games instead of exercising, something is better than nothing.
"These exer-games are no substitute for 'real' sports activities, but if kids play them as designed and stay engaged, they can burn several calories per hour above their sedentary level. We view any increase in energy expenditure (calories burned) as a good thing, especially in our overly-sedentary society," said Kevin Short, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project.
A participant in the study of active video games plays Nintendo Wii Boxing. Researchers studied energy consumption, heart rate and exertion during the games. Credit: OU Medicine
To test the idea, researchers measured the heart rate, energy expenditure and self-reported exertion in children between ages 10-13 while they watched television, played active video games and walked on the treadmill at three different speeds.
Compared to watching television, the calories burned while gaming or walking increased 2- to 3-fold. Similarly, high rates of energy expenditure, heart rate and perceived exertion were elicited from playing Wii boxing, Dance Dance Revolution Level 2 or walking at 3.5 mph.
Wii bowling and beginner level DDR elicited a 2-fold increase in energy expenditure compared to television watching.
Overall, the energy expenditure during active video game play was comparable to moderate-intensity walking. Thus, for children who spend considerable time playing electronic screen games for entertainment, OU researchers found that substituting that time with physically active games can be a safe, fun and valuable means of promoting energy expenditure.