Can video games zap childhood – and adult – obesity?

Check this out – it made the Advances in Medicine column in the National Review of Medecine (Canada):

Always looking for a silver bullet, aren’t we? Or a pill, these days. 😀 Still, an interesting article, on more than one level. Some highlights:

The Wii is a radical departure from all other video game consoles on the market, in that it relies on motion capture technology. Rather than pressing buttons and levers on a controller, the user waves the controller around to mimic the movements of a golf club, tennis racquet or other virtual instrument. An infra-red detector tracks the movements and replicates them on the screen.

The basic package comes with five games: tennis, golf, baseball, bowling and boxing. In theory, the user should play the game as if it were the real thing. It’s easy to see how this can lead to injuries in enclosed spaces.

OK, call me warped, but this is funny:

There are now entire websites devoted to documenting Wii injuries, some of which can be quite nasty. A common theme is the overhead tennis serve, performed under an unnoticed light fixture. Another is the flying controller to the bystander’s head, generally blamed on a failure to wear the included safety wrist strap. More upsetting to most users is the flying controller through the TV screen. There are also a surprising number of lower leg and foot injuries.

Oh boy, “the new Jared” – tell me that wasn’t predictable:

A Mayo Clinic study published in January’s issue of the journal Pediatrics suggested that active video games like the Wii could help in the fight against child obesity. … The console has already been enlisted in the war against adult obesity. Mickey DeLorenzo, a computer programmer in Philadelphia, is on his way to becoming “the new Jared of Subway fame,” according to Time Magazine. He has a book deal to write The Wii Workout, a guide to losing weight with 30 minutes’ play a day. His story is featured on the fitness website

All joking aside – this rocks. This is a great example of how gaming is changing the world:

William Li, a graduate engineering student at the University of Toronto, has devised an active video game console which trains hemiplegic children suffering from cerebral palsy to use their weak arms.

His console, which predates the Wii’s release, is built around the older Sony EyeTool motion capture technology, the same device used by the Mayo Clinic researchers. It can only be played when the user holds down a button under their chair using their strong arm. The movement of the other arm is then captured on screen, and the user performs a range of tasks such as picking fruit and throwing it into a bowl.

Working with kids mostly aged five to nine, Mr Li’s machine has been shown to replicate exactly the kinds of movements that are used in physical therapy to improve strength and fine motor control. It will be presented at the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Conference in Toronto this June.

“We’re also planning to test it using some validated clinical measures of motor control to really quantify any improvements in performance,” he says. Its great strength, he says, is that “the kids don’t see it as work or therapy, but as just another game. They seem to genuinely enjoy playing it.”

The article ends with news I have reported previously: Surgeons who play video games more skilled. This article adds details that the one I blogged about earlier didn’t have (it was mainstream news coverage, after all):

Video simulation has become an essential training tool, especially for pilots. And latterly, video simulation has moved into the field of surgery. February’s issue of the journal Archives of Surgery carries research from the “Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program” at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, which suggests that surgeons who play video games are simply better at their job than those who don’t.

Thirty-three surgeons from Beth Israel participated in this study. Perhaps the most astonishing finding was how many of them played video games already. Fifty-eight percent reported playing at some point, while 30% said their peak use had involved playing almost every day. The typical participant had eight years of video gaming experience, with men more likely to report extensive gaming than women.

The surgeons played three games – Super Monkey Ball 2 for Nintendo Gamecube, Star Wars Racer Revenge for Sony PlayStation 2, and Silent Scope for Microsoft Xbox, then went on to drill and suture porcine bowels and perform a range of other tasks with laparoscopic tools.

Surgeons who never played video games took significantly longer to perform the laparoscopic tests and made significantly more errors than those who played frequently. Skill in each of the video games “was highly correlated with laparoscopic skill and suturing ability,” the researchers found.




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