Games in Healthcare

Playing Wii Can Earn Students Physical Education Credits

Students Actively Playing WiiThe University of Houston has introduced a brand new way to earn physical education credits. In the class entitled Wii Performance, students will learn how to improve their posture, centre of balance and their knowledge of health and fitness.

The class will use the games Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort and Dance Dance Revolution in addition to more traditional methods. Students will also take quizzes on health and nutrition and track their calorie intake and daily activities. Read More...

"Our department conducts a host of research into the epidemic of obesity, not only its root causes, but ways to combat it and the diseases related to it," said Jessica Wheeler, program coordinator at the University of Houston. "Using the Wii games can be both fun and an effective tool. We anticipate that many students will want to take this class."

This innovative teaching method may be surprising to some; however a growing number of schools are turning to the Wii to stimulate students. For example, at the new Bunker Hill Elementary School in Middletown, Delaware, students were greeted with a fitness room equipped with a 50-inch widescreen television and a Nintendo Wii.

The video game console is also a staple in the fitness centre at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware. "They (the students) really like the video games, the interactive fitness, as I call it," said Kim Eroh, a gym teacher at the school. She started using the game system in class in 2007.

"You have a lot of kids who are not as active," said Barb Bobik, a physical education teacher at Olive B. Loss Elementary School in Bear, Delaware, who started piloting the Wii games for fourth-graders at the end of 2008 and plans to expand it for grades 3-5 in gym class 2009.

"Kids are a little overweight now. This motivates them. This hooks kids who are not going to be out there running around at every recess playing tag. It doesn't look like work to them. I just want them to move."

Fun, but Are They Effective?

While the fact that kids are attracted to fitnessp-themed games is undeniable, their effectiveness remains to be fully proven. The U.K. government has endorsed the Wii for use in school physical education classes following a pilot project that used heart monitoring to determine that regular use increased students' fitness. However, more evidence remains needed to properly assert their success rate.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have found that active video games offer a great alternative to moderate exercise for many children of today's generation who are sedentary and at high risk for obesity and diabetes.

"These exergames 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," said Kevin Short, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project, which was published in the July 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

The Oklahoma 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. They found that the energy expenditure levels reached during active video game play were comparable to moderate-intensity walking and that playing physically active games can be a safe, fun and valuable means of promoting energy expenditure.

Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, an Iowa State University assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, is also researching the measurable health benefits of active games. Lanningham-Foster was lead author of a study titled "Activity-Promoting Video Games and Increased Energy Expenditure," published in the June 2009 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

Her initial research on 22 children, ages 10 to 14, found that a child who plays eight hours of video games a week will burn 1,990 calories—an average of 284 per day—through Wii Sports boxing. The amount is three times greater than the energy expenditure from playing a traditional sedentary video game.

"What I wanted to demonstrate was how many more calories your body can burn by playing Wii as opposed to playing a traditional video game -- and it's quite a lot," said Lanningham-Foster.

Whatever gets kids moving in any manner is a good thing, according to John Ray, an education specialist for physical education with the Delaware Department of Education. "I think it's a positive," Ray said of Wii games. "Anything that promotes physical activity and being fit for life is good. We have a long way to go with our obesity and overweight population. But we're making progress."