Monday, April 23, 2012

The American Diabetes Association Wants Video Games in Your Kids' School Gyms?

A waste of a perfectly good gym?
Last week saw a press release from Konami bragging about the involvement of the American Diabetic Association in bringing their exergame Dance, Dance, Revolution to schools across the United States.

Demonstrating what I would call a questionable understanding of energy balance, the ADA's Director of Youth Markets Mary Baumann was quoted in the release as stating,
"We look forward to the impact the new classroom edition can offer schools to help keep children in the healthy fitness zone for BMIs."
Putting aside the fact that I don't actually understand what a "healthy fitness zone for BMIs" is, let's just assume Ms. Baumann was suggesting that kids can Dance, Dance their way to lighter weights.

So does Dance, Dance, Revolution actually burn a great many calories?

Looking to the medical literature helps. Check out this graph that came from a study published in the journal Pediatrics. It's of the measured energy expenditure of kids at rest and playing Dance, Dance, Revolution.

Looks awesome right, kids playing DDR were expending more than double the calories expended at rest. But wait, that's a strange way to report energy expenditure, isn't it? Usually energy expenditure is reported as calories burned per hour of activity, why not here?

Because reporting it as a function of energy burned at rest is the only way to make this study sound interesting. When you actually crunch the study's numbers you'll find that DDR helps to burn an additional 91 calories/hr.  That's less than half the calories you'd burn leisurely walking, let alone actually running around and playing some sort of sport in a gymnasium.

While I've got nothing against exer-gaming, suggesting that it will provide any sort of health benefit, be it weight management, diabetes prevention, or heart health, is more than just wrong and a gross misrepresentation of the medical literature, it's irresponsible. Unfortunately, at this stage of exer-gaming's evolution, they are much more game than they are exercise, and teaching kids, their parents and their educators otherwise, while understandable from video-game developer Konami, is inexcusable from the American Diabetes Association, as this is the exact sort of misinformation that might preclude actually healthy initiatives from being rolled out in schools. 

[Sadly, it's not just the ADA, today's ridiculousness is also being championed by Let's Move and The National Foundation on Fitness and Sports. Shame on all of them.]

Lanningham-Foster, L., Jensen, T., Foster, R., Redmond, A., Walker, B., Heinz, D., & Levine, J. (2006). Energy Expenditure of Sedentary Screen Time Compared With Active Screen Time for Children PEDIATRICS, 118 (6) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2006-1087

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  1. They were probably testing kids who hadn't played it before. Once you get the the higher levels, it's high impact and definitely more intense than brisk walking. It's a far, far better workout than WII Fit. At my best, it was a more intense activity for me than a mixed impact dance exercise class and close to running. I was at.... level five I think? That's out of ten levels. It gets a lot harder. Oh, and I was using a DDR knockoff called "In the Groove." Then my pad stopped working.

    Don't dismiss it until you've used it regularly for a few months and gotten good at it.

    1. Anonymous7:40 am

      I agree.

      When playing on the beginner level, it is easy and would be less work then a brisk walk. However as you get better (for me that was 2-3 sessions) the game gets harder. At the higher levels it gets my heart rate up in a way walking has never be able to. I also agree that DDR is a much better workout then wii fit for a cardio style workout.

  2. What I see of physical activity in the schools in Southwestern Ontario is way too little to make any difference for the majority of pupils. Only the athletic kids on teams get to do it on a regular basis. I suspect what the ADA is promoting will similarly not be done for long enough for the students to get to those higher, more beneficial, levels.

    Here in Ontario, Hoops for Heart (Heart & Stroke Foundation, one of whose sponsors is Boston Pizza), promotes activity to students. Although they tell the kids to get off the computer & away from the TV, one of the incentives for their fundraiser is an XBox 360 Kinect.

    What I see is a convenient shift of responsibility for obesity away from the manufactured foods pushed by these organizations' sponsors. This is something I will believe as long as they don't take a hard line against sugar and refined carbohydrates.

  3. Anonymous9:20 am

    I don't know about this game, but I have an Xbox kinect, and if you play the games without breaks in between, it is a very good cardio workout. I would say even playing on the 'easy' setting is a good work out when played continuously. For example, with the 'Dance Central' game, you can set up a line up of several dances that could keep your heart rate up for 30-60 minutes or however long you want. You move your whole body and aren't limited to a small mat. Other games I have involve running and jumping and to get the best scores (or sometimes to succeed at all) you are required to lift your knees up higher when you run, jump higher with both feet high in the air, etc. There's really not much of a way to 'cheat' at the game (ie: not be active while still getting a high score). Can you do the same in a regular gym class...of course, but this might make it more fun? I would be more inclined to promote it as a way to be active at home when the weather is bad outside. Gym class should probably be left alone. I'd really like to see some researchers study this new form of active video game, as I think it makes participants be vastly more active than the wii, etc.

  4. If exer-gaming will get kids moving and motivated, I'm all for it as a component of the physical education program in Ontario. That's not to say that it should replace current curriculm, but be added into the program. I was a fat kid who grew up in Ontario during the fashion-conscious 80's. About the only thing I had any talent at was basketball. I wasn't a great runner, wasn't really all that co-ordinated for track & field, and I was made into target practice during dodgeball and volleyball. Every year we were then forced through the embarassment (to me, anyhow) that was Canada Fitness testing. If there had been a FUN component that I could have possibly practiced later in the comfort of my own home? You want to bet that would have made a difference. To this day, while I will shoot a few hoops at the local Y, I'm just as likely to pop in my copy of Dance Central or Just Dance in the comfort of my own living room. Personally, I find the Dance Central more of a workout... ;)

  5. My kids and I love playing the Wii Dance for Kids (forgive me if I don't have the name right), and it sure does get the heart pumping. And, it's definitely a fun game.

    But, aside from this, why are they needed in schools. What about sports? Or being taught to dance by a teacher? I mean, I could see if this was a fun one-off afternoon at school, but I don't see value in it, especially if the sun is shining outside.

    Let kids play video games outside of class, and let them learn during school time. It's not like it's video games or nothing, right? There are a million things that they could also be doing, like soccer, baseball, volleyball, track and field, dancing, gymnastics, etc. (I could go on).