In Defense of Games
There are numerous studies that say limiting childrens’ media consumption can greatly reduce their chances of becoming obese. It makes sense, seeing as how kids, ages 8 to 18, spend more time in front of some kind of digital media (computer, tv, video game) than any other activity in their lives except sleeping (source).
Most kids are definitely not as active as they should be to maintain a healthy weight, but parents are finding it hard to change those habits. I found this article in Science Daily interesting because it may present a solution, or at least some relief, to the problem.
The study was conducted by two doctors at Georgetown Univeristy, and it focuses on advergames and childrens’ snack selections. Advergames are online games that often appear on food and beverage websites that promote a certain brand. They typically contain logos, characters and products from the brand. The result of the study was that these advergames may have the ability to encourage kids to choose healthier foods.
The study was done on African American children, 9-10 years old. They were divided into two groups – one played a game, based on Pac-Man, that rewarded them for having their character choose bananas, orange juice and other healthy foods and drinks. Another group played a different version of the game that rewarded choices of soda, candy bars, cookies and chips.
After playing, the two groups were instructed to choose a snack from items featured in the game. Children who played the healthy version of the game were much more likely to choose a banana and orange juice than soda and chips. “With only 10 minutes of exposure, our results revealed that children selected and ate whatever snacks were being marketed by the advergame, healthy or not,” the doctors said.
While this doesn’t promote physical activity, it does show that technology and electronic media could be used to promote nutritious foods with children. However, there are games that do promote physical activity that have come about in the past couple of years. This study shows how video games like Ninetendo’s Wii Sports or Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution give kids the same amount of exercise as they would get taking a brisk walk.
Teaching children games isn’t something new. I remember playing computer games in school that helped you learn about history or science. So why not about making healthy food choices? I think these types of games would be great for elementary school science or physical education classes. While these new technologies are no replacement for real exercise or teaching your children about healthy foods, I think they are a great idea and are a big step in the right direction for combating childhood obesity.