Report: Video Games Can Sub for Outdoor Play Time

The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children participate in at least an hour of "moderate to vigorous" physical activity every day. Research from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville suggests that playing videogames could be a decent substitute for more standard outside activities. The secret is to make sure those video games are the active variety.

The study, undertaken by the university's Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory, hooked up multiple accelerometers to 16 kids, ages five to eight. One of these devices (used to measure motion) went on a hip; two others went on wrists. Then for 20 minutes the kids played River Rush, a game included on Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect. In that game, the player becomes the controller. The Kinect sensor tracks movement and modifies what's happening on the screen to reflect what the player is doing — leaning one way or the other, squatting down, jumping up or some other motion.

Then for an equal amount of time the children were invited to play in an outdoor play area that included a playground, grass, pavement, a climbing tree, hula hoops and balls. They could choose how they wanted to play. In either activity, they could stop and rest at any time.

Trained observers used a children's activity rating scale to record activity levels and estimate energy expenditure in minute-by-minute counts. The researchers found that the accelerometer placed on the hip of the participants measured a higher percentage of moderate to vigorous activity with the video game than with the outdoor play.

"Our study shows video games which wholly engage a child's body can be a source of physical activity," said Hollie Raynor, director of the lab and an associate professor of nutrition, in a prepared statement. "Previous studies investigating active video games had not investigated the energy expenditure of these games as compared to unstructured outdoor play. The purpose of the study was to compare energy expenditure to unstructured outdoor play."

She wants to be clear, however, about one point: "We're not saying video games should replace outdoor play, but there are better choices people can make when choosing the types of video games for their children."

The Lab is part of the Department of Nutrition, which is part of the College of Education, Health & Human Sciences.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.