According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of chronic illness tracking from childhood intoadulthood. There is widespread concern in Canada that the prevalence of overweight and obese children is reaching epidemic proportions, with approximately 26% of Canadian children and youth over the ninetieth percentile for body weight. These children are four times more likely to become overweight adults, leading to the development of chronic illnesses. Physical activity is commonly encouraged in the hopes of decreasing adiposity and increasing health benefits.
In January 2011 the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released updated Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for children and youth. The new guidelines recommend at least a cumulated sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, which includes three days in which resistance training is included. Canadian sedentary behaviour guidelines published in February 2011 recommend that children and youth limit recreational screen time, such as computer use, to no more than two hours per day, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Canadian Paediatric Society.
As physical inactivity and obesity levels continue to rise, it has been suggested that playing new-generation active computer and video games can increase energy expenditure. However, questions arise about whether such activities provide children with the opportunity to expend sufficient energy to meet current public health guidelines.
The advantages of using new-generation active video games are that children can participate in active gaming in the comfort of their own home under parental supervision. Low-level activity is better than no activity, and may increase children’s motivation to get involved in sports or other physical activities. Eergaming may have benefits in rehabilitative and therapeutic settings to help individuals overcome injury, disability, disease or aging-related issues. However, most active video games only engage children in low levels of physical activity that do not meet the daily goals of the current guidelines. The use of exergaming may discourage children from practising genuine sporting activities that have greater energy expenditure than most video games. Therefore, exergaming may provide low levels of physical activity for children but should not be used as a substitute for authentic indoor or outdoor physical activity.
Although exergaming is not a replacement for real-time physical activity, for inactive children it may serve to slowly introduce physical activity. Rehabilitation practitioners can be influential in encouraging physical activity by promoting active healthy lifestyles within their practice, teaching by example in the community, and by educating our patients and ourselves on the health benefits of physical activity.