Video games. Do they hold children back from healthier, more physical types of play? Are kids living sedentary lifestyles that will doom them to lifelong obesity and giant wobbly thighs? This small Australian study attempts to separate the truth from the really rubbish headlines.
This study focused largely on three distinct groups: kids who had video games removed completely, kids who had access to video games and kids who had regular games replaced with physical video games. And would you believe it — the study claims that yes, removing video games from the house will result in a tiny increase in physical activity in children, but it turns out that actually replacing the video games with physically active video games (this study used a PlayStation 2 and the Eye Toy) has a similar, ever-so-slightly larger impact.
But it's worth mentioning that the numbers we're dealing with, the differences, are absolutely tiny. On average removing video games resulted in 5 minutes of extra physical activity per day. Replacing 'regular' games with physical games increased activity by six minutes per day.
So we're talking about miniscule differences here.
The conclusion of the study was that "replacing sedentary electronic games with active electronic games will provide at least as good an activity outcome and perhaps be easier for the parent and child to sustain" but I can't help but wonder if the whole situation doesn't really have a band-aid solution. It comes from a general attitude towards physical activity in general.
I've been lucky. I've always been into playing sport and being active and that was always encouraged in my family. I hope to pass that down to my son, but I imagine it must be difficult for the children of parents who don't do any kind of physical activity to tell their kids to go out and play. And that's not a judgement either — those same parents were probably part of the same cycle. It's difficult to break habits. I think that's the long and short of it. Simply taking video games out of the equation won't help anyone. Video games should just be part of a balanced lifestyle that includes some kind of physical activity.
Seems obvious, but difficult in practice I suppose.
I've uploaded the study here if you're interested in reading more.