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Can Video Games Help Fight the Obesity Epidemic?

For years, America has been facing an obesity epidemic. Does playing video games help to solve that issue? Or hinder progress?

Jori Hamilton

May 20, 2019

5 Min Read

For some gamers, a perfect day may consist of finding the comfiest spot on the couch, putting in the latest released video game, and spending hours finishing missions and winning battles. The only interruption to this blissful ritual is the resonance of the doorbell announcing the arrival of pizza, breadsticks, and soda.

Even on a normal day, whether a weekend or after work or school, it can be all too easy to spend hour upon hour in front of the TV, controller in hand. The feeling of accomplishment creeping up the closer you get to reaching the end of the game is enough to keep you going far beyond what you’d originally planned.

While many Americans of all ages take pleasure in spending their free time playing video games, it comes at a cost higher than the price of the consoles and video games. Often, the cost is their health.

In the U.S., obesity is a worsening, nationwide epidemic that medical professionals are failing to conquer, with over one third of American adults struggling with obesity. According to a study by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), about 45% of obese adults play video games. So, the pleasures of the digital age like video games work to fuel this epidemic, but could they also be a cure?

Obesity in the U.S.

The study by the CDC included 249 declared gamers, the average gamer being 35 years old and overweight. The study also explored a correlation between gaming and weight issues as well as unhappiness and even depression, stating that many in the study were less outgoing and social. “This was consistent with prior research in adolescent video game enthusiasts that tied video game playing to sedentary habits, weight issues and mental health concerns.”

In the midst of an obesity crisis, this correlation is alarming. About 160 million Americans are obese. According to the Center for Disease Control, the top causes for obesity include community, environment, and behavior. Their physical activity guidelines recommend 2 days of strength training and 75 to 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity per week. The health consequences for obesity include hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, breathing problems, and more.

People with obesity live with difficulties not only regarding their health, but regarding other important matters in their lives such as their jobs. For example, a report by Eastern Kentucky University found that although over a quarter of American workers are obese, over 60% of overweight employees reported they had been discriminated against due to their weight. In fact, the report found that employers have the following perceptions about obese workers:

  • 44% believe that obesity results from poor life choices.

  • 59% think it is a preventable condition.

  • 57% think it results from poor will power.

  • 57% believe obesity is a disease.

Through the years, there have been many efforts to improve eating and exercise habits to reduce obesity. According to a report on government efforts to curb obesity, the societal and public health costs for each obese person in the U.S. accounts to almost $100,000 over their lifetime. As such, efforts to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks such as soda have been pursued by the government, as have efforts to encourage physical activity and healthy eating habits.

How Video Games Can Get Players Moving

While the government can work to reduce access to unhealthy food and drink, other factors that contribute to obesity cannot be removed. Screens, for example, contribute to an idle lifestyle. In addition to video games, smart phones, TVs, laptops, tablets, all encourage users to sit or lay down to use them.

However, video games offer the unique opportunity to get people — adults and children alike — moving. One study by GameSquad monitored the positive effects of video games on children, where the study included 46 children aged 10 to 12 who were split evenly into a gaming group and a control group:

The children in the gaming group were given an Xbox 360 with a Kinect, a Fitbit to track their exercise, and four exercise oriented video games: “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012,” “Just Dance 3,” “Disneyland Adventures,” and “Kinect Sports Season 2.” The kids in this group were encouraged to exercise the recommended 60 minutes a day for 6 months. The kids in the control group were not asked to make any changes to their routine.

At the end of the study, the children in the control group had an increased blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as decreased physical activity. In contrast, the children in the gaming group reduced their body mass index, cholesterol, increased their physical activity by 10%, and had a better association with exercise.

Similarly, another study by NCBI found that over a period of 20 weeks, playing the Wii Fit “demonstrated weight loss, increased self-efficacy, and improved peer support from cooperative exergame play.” This shows that video games can have a positive effect on children regarding physical activity and mentality towards exercise.

The Best Video Games for Exercise

Likewise, adults could have similar positive benefits if they played video games that incorporate movement. Some of the best video games for exercise include:

  • Nike+ Kinect Training (Xbox)

  • Zumba Fitness (Xbox, Wii Fit)

  • Dance Dance Revolution (Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo Wii)

  • The Biggest Loser Challenge (Nintendo Wii)

  • Your Shape (Xbox with Kinect)

  • Wii Fit (Nintendo Wii)

Ultimately, video games alone are not enough to combat obesity in children, adolescents, or adults. However, they can get everyone moving more per day than they otherwise would, which is positive improvement. Plus, such games may encourage players to adopt healthier lifestyle options, such as eating healthy and exercising more.



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