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Does disguising fitness disguise its importance? February 9, 2009

Posted by Katy Roberson in Prevention, Wellness.

New innovative video gaming technology is helping meet kids where they are at in order to increase their physical activity. These new video gaming systems are designed to be electronic playgrounds that disguise physical fitness within interactive video games. I think these innovations do an excellent job of enticing kids and engaging them. My worry is that while disguising physical activity these new technologies are also disguising important messages about healthful behavior. Jeff Barber, president of Playground Specialist Inc. told the Washington Post “They get a workout without knowing they’re getting a workout.” Just like the concept of hiding vegetables in children’s food, it makes sense to help keep them healthy but overweight and obesity are lifelong diseases that require an understanding and commitment to healthful behavior.

These gaming systems are an excellent way to get kids physically active but they still need to know why what they are doing is important for their health. I think experts feel that if they tell kids what they doing is healthy they won’t want to do it. In this regard, I think these video game playgrounds offer a way to counteract the healthfulness with fun games for kids.

In the Washington Post, Lori Aratani reported on organizations that are trying these new playgrounds. Although the investment is great, local groups including the Alexandria YMCA and a Silver Spring Elementary School are among the early adopters of these innovations. Although both have invested in the idea of video gaming playgrounds, they are based on different ways of doing so. The “I-gym”, the system the YMCA has begun to pilot, is an indoor workout facility that “marries video games and fitness.” This technology was developed by iTECH Fitness. I am really impressed by the XRKade concept because it creates a gym environment through gaming and was developed as an “Active Gaming Lifestyle” brand that goes beyond disguising fitness within video games. The full extent of their brand messaging wasn’t available on their site but I think it offers a great opportunity to incorporate the healthful messages that are necessary to promote lifelong engagement in healthful behaviors.

In comparison, Woodlin Elementary is using NEOS, a system that brings video gaming outdoors.  NEOS is an all-in-one play structure that incorporates technology with aerobic activity. Check out a video about the development of NEOS. For systems like this, an educational component must be incorporated to help kids understand how the NEOS equipment contributes to their health. Using NEOS in a school setting offers a great opening for doing this.

I do believe that investment into new technologies such as these is very important but we cannot forget the communication aspect to ensure a lifelong understanding of what healthful behaviors are and why it is important to engage in them.



1. medhead - February 10, 2009

I’m going to have to disagree with you, Katy. My parents talk all the time about the “simpler time” when kids were able to go out and play all over the neighborhood for all hours of the day. They ran and played because that’s what (most) kids are naturally inclined to do. Kids (in general) don’t do that any more because it’s not culturally feasible, not because they enjoy it any less.

That being the case, I think it’s more important to provide the outlet for kids to be able to engage in physical activity, than it is to communicate its benefits. (Why stress that your kid knows why his milk is good for him? Just be glad he likes to drink it.) The communication aspect, in my opinion, should be stressed much later; when physical activity begins to be replaced by mental activity (college? young professional?).

2. Katy Roberson - February 10, 2009

Sadly we are no longer in a “simpler time” and kids now have many more options for how to occupy their play time, including video games and television. These new video game playgrounds offer excellent and enticing alternatives to both, but childhood obesity is an epidemic that is caused by a lack of healthful choices being made during childhood and adolescence. The CDC’s Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People recommends that school and community programs promoting physical activity among young people should “implement health education curricula and instruction that help students develop the knowledge, attitudes, behavioral skills and confidence needed to adopt and maintain physically active lifestyles.” In those same guidelines the CDC identifies perceived benefits for engaging in physical activity as a factor that is positively associated with increasing physical activity among young people. You can check out these guidelines here: ftp://ftp.cdc.gov/pub/Publications/mmwr/rr/rr4606.pdf

Don’t get me wrong, I think these are really amazing uses of technology and they clearly address many of the perceived benefits that appeal to young people. I just think that in order for them to have a positive long term effect on childhood obesity they will need to communicate both the fun and healthful aspects of the playgrounds.

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