One factor that is thought to be important in obesity pathogenesis is low physical activity levels or low non-exercise activity thermogensis (NEAT) 20, 25, 26
. Screen time may be an area for researchers to focus efforts on decreasing sedentariness or increasing NEAT in children and adults. The objective of this study was to examine the energetic implications of converting sedentary video gaming to activity-promoting video gaming. When children or adults played activity-promoting video games, energy expenditure more than doubled compared to the sedentary equivalent.
Vandewater et. al., observed a relationship between weight status and the amount of time spent playing video games 27
. Our question was as to whether activity-promoting screen-time substantially increases energy expenditure as this might precipitate studies to examine these modalities for weight loss. The results are clear that children will burn more calories when playing the activity-promoting games. If a child plays 8 hours of video games a week9
, for weekly video gaming energy expenditure alone, he or she could burn 652 calories playing a sedentary video game or 1990 calories (average of 284 calories each day) playing the activity-promoting Nintendo® Wii Boxing. We previously examined other forms of activity-promoting video gaming and walking in similarly aged children. If children participated in 8 hours a week of other activities such as Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy™, or walking on a treadmill at 1.5 mph, they could burn on average 189 calories/day, 144 calories/day, and 166 calories/day, respectively12
Similarly, if adults participated in only half of the time that children do for weekly video gaming, an adult could burn an average of 124 calories each day playing the activity-promoting Nintendo® Wii Boxing. This is similar to the number of calories that adults might burn if they walked on a treadmill at 2 mph for this same period of time (146 calories/day, unpublished observation). One important advantage of adult participation in activity-promoting video games is that it may provide positive behavior modelling for children. It is also important to note that there is evidence that the sustained use of activity-promoting video games is difficult, but more likely to be achieved if children play in the company of others 14,28
Although our data clearly demonstrate that activity-promoting video games markedly increase energy expenditure in children and adults, the study has limitations. First, the experiments were conducted in the laboratory rather than the home. We do not think that a home-based study would have substantially altered our primary finding that activity-promoting video gaming doubles energy expenditure compared to sedentary video gaming. Because this was a laboratory-based study, energy expenditure was measured for 10-minute periods. This period is unlikely to capture the variability in energy expenditure if the participants were engaged in free video game play at home. Second, this was not a weight loss intervention study. However, our goal here was to evaluate the energetic potential of converting sedentary to activity promoting video gaming. We think that these data are sufficiently robust to warrant prospective, randomized studies in this area. We did not randomize the order of the study protocol between study participants. Randomization of the protocol activities would have extended the length of the study protocol from 2.5 hours to 5 hours, making it more difficult for young children to participate in a lengthy study. The children received a small snack which might have increased energy expenditure above resting by approximately 5 percent. This was ethically mandatory to prevent the children from feeling excessively hungry. We did not assess the extent to which children or adults found the games to be fun or enjoyable. We did not receive any comments to indicate dissatisfaction with playing the games, but future studies to address overall satisfaction would be important especially for sustainability of the activity. In general the study sample was small and not ethnically diverse. Despite the limitations, it is clear that activity-promoting video games can increase energy expenditure 2−3 times compared to sedentary video games.
Projections are that video gaming in children and adults is likely to continue to increase rather than decline. Even at the current level of weekly video gaming, activity-promoting video games have the potential to substantially increase daily energy expenditure. Despite the fact that activity-promoting video gaming allows children and adults to burn more calories than when they play sedentary video games, playing video games as a substitution for real sports or free play needs to be evaluated further. There are likely components of free play and sports that are beneficial beyond the increased energy expenditure and movement associated with activity-promoting video games.