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Videogames vs. Childhood Obesity

By Michael Kasumovic

Here’s an idea for improving the health of our children: let them play more videogames.

Obesity has numerous health risks and it is most frightening in children as early learned behaviours will last throughout their life. The regulatory, infrastructure and educational changes suggested in The Conversation’s recent Obese Nation series will help in the fight against obesity.

But these ideas take time to implement and the problem is rapidly increasing.

We need solutions now if we are to help the youngest generation—the ones most at risk. But it is essential that any solution uses already ingrained activities, and most importantly, that it reinforces positive behaviours while being simple and enjoyable. Hence the idea we should let kids play more videogames.

The future of gaming

Before you all pick up your pitch forks and torches, hear me out. Too much time playing videogames is seen as a problem as it leads to a sedentary lifestyle that sacrifices health. That’s why limiting screen time is often suggested as a solution.

But once again, we look for the simple solution and blame videogames rather than trying to understand the more complex social and economical underpinnings of the problem. But setting aside these issues for a moment, I’d like discuss how videogames can actually help those with an already sedentary lifestyle.

Since the inception of videogame systems and their introduction into homes in the early 80s, the way individuals play videogames has changed dramatically. Now arm and body movements can be substituted for button presses on a controller.

Nintendo laid the foundation with Wii and Sony followed suit with Move for Playstation 3, but these systems require you to wave a controller in the air. As a result, these ideas were more of a gimmick than a revolution. Microsoft took the next step and transformed this idea with Kinect.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kinect for the Xbox 360, it’s a motion capture camera that allows real-time tracking of head, body and limbs for use to control on-screen movements.

For example, in the game The Gunstringer, the movement of the character in third-person is controlled with one hand while aiming and firing a gun is controlled by the other.

Although many games require simple movements, some of the most fun games require rapid, accurate whole-body movements that (wait for it) mimic exercise. If you haven’t played these games, try them. By the end of a couple of rounds, you are breathing heavily, and are hot and red-faced. Kinect might be exactly what families need to help children fight back against obesity.

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Michael Kasumovic is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

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