The prevalence of obesity has been increasing at a tremendous rate in industrialized countries. In the United States, where the problem is most pronounced, three-fifths of adults are overweight, and almost a quarter are obese (source, CDC):
In 2005, among the total U.S. adult population surveyed, 60.5% were overweight, 23.9% were obese, and 3.0% were extremely obese. Obesity prevalence was 24.2% among men and 23.5% among women and ranged from 17.7% among adults aged 18–29 years to 29.5% among adults aged 50–59 years…. Among racial/ethnic populations, the greatest obesity prevalence was 33.9% for non-Hispanic blacks. Overall, age-adjusted obesity rates were 15.6%, 19.8%, and 23.7% for the 1995, 2000, and 2005 surveys, respectively.
Children are affected as well. Also according to the CDC,
The most recent data indicate that in the United States about 16% of children ages 6–19 years are overweight. Since the 1970s, overweight has doubled among young children aged 2–5 years and tripled among school-aged children aged 6–19 years.
There are numerous factors that contribute to overweight and obesity: increased consumption of (higher-calorie) food, decreased levels of exercise, and increasing sedentary behavior all play major roles. With the popularity and ubiquity of video game systems, children are spending more and more time in front of a screen.
I’ve often thought that a video game such as Dance Dance Revolution and its variants is useful—one has to step on certain panels on a floor pad according to a music-synchronized pattern of arrows appearing on the screen. It can be quite tiring, and there are occasional anecdotal reports of people achieving significant weight loss as a result. Perhaps in addition to its direct exercise benefits, it promotes a desire to be in better cardiovascular shape to improve one’s performance or to compete with one’s friends. DDR is quite an enjoyable game, but there are some disadvantages as well—in addition to the game itself, one must purchase one or two floor pads, and those who have difficulty with music or rhythm might be discouraged.
However, Nintendo has recently released its new video game console, the Wii (pronounced /wē/). Its features a wireless one-handed controller that detects rotation and motion in all three dimensions to be used, for instance, as a sword or a baseball bat. Christopher Mims at Scientific American’s blog speculates that systems like these could help reverse the role of video games in obesity:
This is pure speculation, but the Nintendo Wii includes, for the first time in video game history, a really solid motion-sensitive controller. No longer can you press the “A” button to set your avatar’s sword arm a-swingin’ — now you have to actually swing that sword yourself.
OK, you’re saying, so you’ll be moving around a little more — I mean we’ve all played Dance Dance Revolution — but what’s that really amount to? Well, just ask the testers of the new Wii:
Ashida: My family was among those that tested the Wii. My son is a second grader. He loved it. After playing, he was completely drenched in sweat.
It ain’t exactly football in the back yard, but we all know how addicted to videogames most kids are. Could getting them to move around for 4 hours a day instead of sitting paralyzed in front of the TV make a significant difference? This is just a hunch, but I’d think so…
A hunch, true—but a reasonable one.