Dance dance diet

Study: Video game slows weight gain, boosts con­fi­dence

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness - By Shaya Tayefe Mo­ha­jer

MOR­GAN­TOWN, W.Va. — Af­ter weeks of bop­ping along to the video game Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion, Ryan Walker is trim­mer and stronger — and for the first time the 12-year-old feels com­fort­able in his own skin.

“Be­fore, he didn’t want to play with kids, go to school dances or any of those func­tions — and now he wants to do things,” says his mother, Tammy Walker.

Ryan’s trans­for­ma­tion oc­curred over the 24 weeks he par­tic­i­pated in a West Vir­ginia Univer­sity study that hoped to de­ter­mine if the ex­ergame could be used to com­bat the na­tion’s child obe­sity prob­lem.

The study, funded in part by West Vir­ginia’s health in­sur­ance pro­gram for pub­lic em­ploy­ees, took 35 over­weight chil­dren be­tween the ages of 7 and 12 and asked them to grad­u­ally in­crease the amount of time they played the game. Each child was med­i­cally con­sid­ered over­weight ac­cord­ing to his body-mass in­dex, a mea­sure­ment of body fat through a height and weight ra­tio.

What re­searchers found was that par­tic­i­pants who reg­u­larly played and con­tin­ued to eat fatty foods were able to slow down — but not stop — their weight gain. Re­searchers are call­ing it a “stall in weight gain.”

Chil­dren who re­lied on the game as their sole source of ex­er­cise gained 2 pounds dur­ing the study. Those who did not play the game gained an av­er­age of 5.3 pounds.

“We didn’t even at­tempt to change their diet, which is an­other rea­son that we didn’t see sig­nif­i­cant weight loss,” said WVU re­searcher Emily Mur­phy.

In­stead re­searchers found that in ad­di­tion to bet­ter artery ex­pan­sion, some par­tic­i­pants de­vel­oped phys­i­cal self-es­teem.

The game’s ad­dic­tive na­ture, and ca­pac­ity to lead to greater phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, earns it a com­par­i­son to drugs, with WVU re­searcher Linda Car­son dub­bing it a “gate­way phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.”

“The first night I did it about 30 times in a row, I didn’t want to stop,” Ryan said.

The game is played on a dance pad with eight ar­rows point­ing for­ward, back­ward, left, right and di­ag­o­nally. Play­ers press the pan­els with their feet in re­sponse to ar­rows dis­played on the video screen that are syn­chro­nized to the beat of a cho­sen song.

Suc­cess is mea­sured by the player’s abil­ity to time and po­si­tion his or her steps.

The study di­rected par­tic­i­pants to work their way up to play­ing 25 songs — equal to about an hour of play­time a day — and re­searchers called weekly to check on progress.

But sim­ply in­tro­duc­ing ex­er­cise into life­styles that in­clude french fries as di­etary sta­ples won’t cor­rect obe­sity, re­searchers said. That’s un­for­tu­nate news for West Vir­ginia, where nearly 21 per­cent of state res­i­dents un­der 18 are con­sid­ered over­weight, ac­cord­ing to Trust for Amer­ica’s Health.

The state’s rural na­ture, which ham­pers the de­vel­op­ment of ex­er­cise-ori­ented in­fra­struc­ture, is partly blamed for the prob­lems with obe­sity, state nu­tri­tion of­fi­cials say. Poverty also plays a role as it af­fects nearly 1 in 4 West Vir­ginia chil­dren.

Even stay­ing af­ter school to par­tic­i­pate in ath­let­ics or ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties is a chal­lenge be­cause for many stu­dents a bus ride is the only way to and from school. Be­cause of de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions, many boards of ed­u­ca­tion have con­sol­i­dated schools, forc­ing stu­dents to catch long bus rides back home to iso­lated rural homes.

“In many of our rural ar­eas there just isn’t a way to make a safe route for chil­dren to walk to school along roads that coal trucks and other fast traf­fic travel on,” said Me­lanie Purkey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the state’s Of­fice of Healthy Schools.

Those are some of the rea­sons why the state has in­te­grated Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion into West Vir­ginia’s 160 mid­dle schools and is en­cour­ag­ing school ad­min­is­tra­tors to make the game avail­able to stu­dents dur­ing free pe­ri­ods be­fore and af­ter school, Purkey said.

Hawaii, Cal­i­for­nia, Mis­souri, Florida, Ten­nessee and Mis­sis­sippi also use the game in schools on a smaller scale, ac­cord­ing to Clara Gil­bert, a spokes­woman for Kon­ami, the maker of the game.

Though Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion has a work­out mode built in, Gil­bert said West Vir­ginia’s use of the game “was a sur­prise be­cause they wanted to put it in all pub­lic schools as a sport, for phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion. We never thought it would be used in a state in this mag­ni­tude.”

Use of the pop­u­lar Ja­panese video game started in 2005 as a pilot project in 20 West Vir­ginia pub­lic schools. Though Kon­ami did not fund the study at WVU, it do­nated nearly $100,000 to bring the game to mid­dle schools across the state.

Gov. Joe Manchin has called on the Leg­is­la­ture to pro­vide $350,000 in next year’s bud­get for a games for health project in state schools.

Some par­ents may won­der if danc­ing to a video game is as good as run­ning laps.

A Mayo Clinic study found that kids us­ing Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion for 15 min­utes burn more calo­ries than walk­ing on a tread­mill for the same pe­riod of time. In a Univer­sity of Auck­land study pub­lished last Au­gust, re­searchers found that 21 chil­dren who used phys­i­cally ac­tive video games pro­duced as much phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity as walk­ing, skip­ping and jog­ging.

“If we could get the kids to skip rope, that would be just as good. But you can’t get them to skip rope,” Car­son said.

In many ways, Ryan rep­re­sents the best case sce­nario for game users.

He’s gained 10 pounds since he be­gan play­ing Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion for the WVU study — but he’s also grown a foot taller, and is more fit and trim than ever be­fore.


A West Vir­ginia Univer­sity study showed chil­dren who reg­u­larly played the video game Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion re­duced their body mass in­dexes. Above is a screen shot from the pop­u­lar game.

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