iLearn4Health – Childhood Obesity and Active Video Games

Childhood Obesity and Active Video Games

Written by: A. Vantarakis, Professor of Hygiene, University of Patras


Nowadays, obesity is presented as a constantly growing phenomenon, especially in industrialized countries. Obesity is not a simple disease but a syndrome with multifactorial causes and consequences that includes metabolic, genetic, social and cultural interactions. The rapid increase in obesity cannot be attributed to genetics because the genetic material did not change substantially from 1980 to 1994. Therefore, the main considerations for researchers should be changes in both diet and physical activity.

Obesity is defined as the imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure, the main causes of which are environmental factors and especially those associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Indeed, the modern lifestyle contains a multitude of sedentary activities (TV, PC, electronic games, etc.) which are responsible for the weight gain of individuals, while physical activity tends to be minimized.

Obesity is considered the great challenge of the 21st century for Public Health. Its occurrence has tripled since the 1980s, and it looks like the younger generation will be affected even more. As a medical problem, it accounts for 2-8% of health expenditure in the European Union, while it is responsible for or associated with 10-13% of deaths in the various regions of Europe. Greece is considered one of the countries where the problem of obesity has reached endemic proportions. According to data collected by the European Medicine and Society Cooperation Program, on 28,000 people:

  1. 30% of Greek women are obese (1st place in Europe)
  2. 30% of Greek men are obese (2nd place in Europe)
  3. 26% of boys and 19% of girls aged 6–17 are overweight
  4. Greece is the first country in Europe in terms of childhood obesity
  5. Crete is the region of Europe with the highest rates of obesity

Given that obesity and related chronic disease risk factors have relatively stable characteristics that emerge from childhood and persist into adulthood, the public health risk concern is of great interest. Childhood obesity can lead to cardiovascular, endocrinological, pulmonary, renal and musculoskeletal complications. In addition, overweight children are more likely to experience low self-esteem, higher rates of anxiety, mood disorders, and other mental health effects, which in turn can affect their school performance.

To combat these potential complications, it is extremely important to intervene at a young age rather than allowing the problem to continue into adulthood. Children appear to be more receptive to behavior change, and researchers may be more able to use family members as social support systems. Therefore, the main concern of parents should be how to prevent children from a sedentary lifestyle. In particular, attention should be directed to how they can stimulate those children who are unwilling or unable to participate in physical activities.

A new generation of active video games provides children with the ability to turn traditionally sedentary behavior into a physically active activity. During these games, players physically interact (with arm, leg, or full body movement) in a variety of movements related to sports (eg, soccer, boxing, martial arts) and other activities. (dancing, washing windows, etc.) after the visual stimulus they have from their TV screen. The games depend on the movement of the player who is asked to either imitate the movement he sees or to operate competitively in the respective game or sport he has chosen. This active ingredient replaces the sedentary behavior of using traditional video games where pressing a button could control the game.

The key question is whether these activities are effective enough to reduce body weight in both children and adults who will participate. On the other hand, if these activities significantly promote energy expenditure, then they could become a powerful tool to reverse sedentary life into active life, ensuring it as a high-value activity. In any case, however, what should be clarified is that active video games should in no way replace physical activity. What we think they can do is work as an alternative for people to be able to exercise even inside their home.