Are there Health Benefits of Electronic Games?


Are there health benefits of electronic games?

The use of electronic games for health improvement is an area of emerging research. Settings include homes, schools, hospitals, clinics, and community centers. Some games require physical interaction, whereas other games are non-active but are intended to be educational. Games also exist that combine efforts to increase knowledge with changes in attitudes and behaviors. Examples of innovative products include games for school-aged children to learn about nutrition, games for adults to aid in smoking cessation, games for seniors to demonstrate exercise, and games for college students which promote healthy lifestyles.

Non-active games

Non-active games can increase knowledge and influence behavior change. For example, a game targeting adolescent cancer patients improved adherence to chemotherapy and treatment plans. Games that promote skill-building, virtual immersion in stories via avatars, goal setting, and situation simulation have shown promise in changing behavior; specific outcomes vary depending on game complexity. Video games also have shown success in improving cognitive functions in healthy older adults, including task switching, working memory, visual short-term memory, and reasoning.

Active games

Active games also have shown promise for increasing an individual’s physical activity. For example, one such game called Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) introduced in 1998 has sold nearly 16 million units worldwide. A 2005 study of DDR demonstrated that children dancing for 45 minutes doubled their resting heart rate and increased their metabolism and calories burned. The popular Nintendo Wii (2006) and Wii Fit (2008) gaming systems

offer a variety of active games from boxing to tennis. Energy expenditure during active video games varies depending on weight, gender, intensity, and duration of activity. A recent study of Wii Fit games found that level of enjoyment influences frequency of game usage, thereby impacting energy expenditure. Aerobic games were found to produce greater energy expenditures than balance games (~ 2.7 kcal/kg-1/hr-1) although they were rated less enjoyable. Participation in aerobic games identified as more enjoyable produced greater energy expenditure than aerobic games designed to emphasize exercise alone. One variable related to health promotion is that the nature of many active video games is often intermittent there-by, detracting from the gamer’s ability to sustain movement and maintain aerobic exercise. For further information on the use of electronic media-based health interventions for promoting behavior change in youth (including physical activity and nutrition choices), see the systematic review by K. Hieftje —“Electronic Media-Based Health Interventions Promoting Behavior Change in Youth”, published in JAMA Pediatrics online April 8, 2013.

Other electronic games have the potential to enhance motor learning and training for cardio- vascular and musculoskeletal systems, and balance. For example, a study of patients in intensive care units indicated that active video game use is feasible and can complement routine physical therapy intended to improve balance and endurance. Another study of patients with spinal cord injury who used active video games requiring only upper limbs demonstrated increases in metabolic rates. Some believe that more investigation is needed to determine how to best include electronic games in clinical settings without disturbing the clinician-patient relationship, citing concerns regarding efficacy, suitability and safety.

The above is an excerpt from the full report of the AMA Council on Science and Public Health on the Health Benefits of Electronic Games — “Electronic Games and Health Promotion”.

Houston Facial Plastic Surgeon, Russell W.H. Kridel, M.D., is current Chair of the AMA Council on Science and Public Health.