Can Wii Fit and Kinect Help Tackle Childhood Obesity?

February 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm 2 comments

Erika Poole, an assistant professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, describes herself as “part nerd, part athlete.” Which explains the title of the presentation she gave in the IST Building’s flashy “cybertorium” recently: “Exergaming: Health or Hype?”

I went to the presentation because, honestly, the concept of exergaming—that’s using a video game system such as Wii Fit or Kinect to exercise—has always seemed a little ridiculous to me. Unless there’s, say, a foot or so of snow and some scattered ice on the ground, I prefer to “play” outside. I’ve been that way since I was a little kid, when Mom would occasionally call into the living room, “Get your nose out of that book and get outside!”

Apparently that’s becoming less common. The average kid spends more time playing video games than running around outdoors, and Poole is part of a group researching whether playing exercise games on a computer can help with a major problem in the United States—childhood obesity.

Poole explained the two things that researchers know are contributing factors in childhood obesity: sugar-sweetened drinks, and sedentary activities in front of a screen. My first reaction, I’ll admit, was this: “Turn off that computer and get outside!” But Poole did a great job of explaining why that’s not always possible: Kids don’t always live in neighborhoods where it’s safe to go outside and play, for one thing.

And it turns out that 83 percent of American households—“rich to poor,” Poole said—have a video-game system in their homes. So it’s logical to wonder whether it’s possible to turn enough of that sedentary screen time into more moving-around-in-front-0f-the-screen time. And to determine whether that activity can make a difference.

Most of Poole’s audience was IST students, and she gave them a lot of things to think about as they design games. For instance, what will keep Wii Fit from joining a treadmill or Bowflex as a very expensive clothes rack? Her research is showing that kids get bored, and she showed some awesome examples of what’s apparently a YouTube sub-genre: kids cheating on exergames.

She also gave a synopsis of her current research on the American Horsepower Challenge, in which schools compete against each other in a virtual road race, tracking their daily steps with pedometers and, ideally, becoming a group social activity that kids get excited about.

Poole says that her research is in its early stages, and she’s recruiting students who are interested in participating. As for me, perhaps the next time I visit my nieces, I’ll let them talk me into a game of ski slalom on the Wii.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shalala Goodie  |  May 10, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Thanks mate great stuff agree with everything!

  • […] good health: Back in 2011, we covered some interesting research from IST faculty member Erika Poole. Then, Poole was studying the impact of new video gaming systems (like Wii Fit and Kinect) on the […]

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