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Video Games Bring Benefits for Obese Teens

Monday, July 30, 2012 - Campus News - Contact Theresa Green, (405) 833-9824
 OUHSC researchers Casey Hester, M.D., and Stephen Gillaspy, Ph.D., talk about the impact of exergaming on obese teens.

Obese teenagers with an aversion to exercise gained confidence when playing "exergames," which combine exercise – often dance steps – with video games, according to a study by University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researchers.
Furthermore, the teens reported better psychological well-being and a closer relationship with parents, said Casey Hester, M.D., a pediatrician with OU Children's Physicians and associate professor in the OU College of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics.
"For the kids, it felt like playing and having a good time, not exercising," Hester said. "It gave them more confidence to exercise."
Overweight and obese teens may avoid traditional forms of exercise like sports or going to a fitness facility because they are self-conscious. But Hester said the 21 teens in the study enjoyed coming to the thrice-weekly exergaming sessions and all but one of them completed the 10-week study. The teens who participated in the exergaming sessions were compared to a group of teens who did not participate in the dance sessions.
Exergaming by itself, however, did not lead to significant weight loss among study participants, who were not asked to change their eating patterns. Researchers say it is not clear why weight was not impacted. Hester said one possibility is that participants felt they could eat more because they had exercised.
While more study is needed to help determine if such games can be an effective part of a weight loss program for teens, researchers say the study shows the games can definitely help overweight and obese teens become less sedentary.
Since the study was conducted, additional interactive games have been developed, so teens have more choices than ever. The games are a fun way for families to exercise together and could lead to more traditional forms of exercise as well, Hester said.
"There's a higher likelihood for success if the families do it together," Hester said. "It's a bonding experience for families."
Exergaming participants noted an improvement in their relationship with their parents during the study, she said. Additionally, parents perceived improvement in their children's feelings of depression and anxiety, and in behaviors such as aggression and hyperactivity. These differences were not seen in the non-dancing group.
Participants in the study were between the ages of 12 and 18 with a body mass index higher than the 95th percentile.
One in three children in this country is overweight or obese. Hester said that being overweight or obese in childhood can contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
The study is published in the journal Pediatric Obesity. The research was supported by funding from the OU College of Medicine Alumni Association.

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