Could Video Games Actually Improve Health Outcomes In Children?

Video games are generally linked to a decline in the health of children, but they aren’t going away. A white paper published in Games for Health Journal claims that the video games for health (G4H) field is currently looking into innovative ways to use video games to change behavioral patterns and increase positive health outcomes in children. The paper called for more research, targeted funding, and specifically defined guidelines in order to drive video game design, turning adverse effects of gaming into positive effects. The peer-reviewed paper is a publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. and is free for download through the month of April.

A team of researches working on video games for health from the Institute of Digital Media and Child Development Working Group on Games for Health collaborated with the paper’s lead author Dr. Tom Baranowski, Editor-in-Chief of Games for Health Journal, and scientists from the USDA and Baylor College of Medicine. The white paper is entitled “Games for Health for Children — Current Status and Needed Research.”

The authors of the white paper reviewed the current information about G4H. They examined game designs and ways in which the video game designs might be able to target specific behaviors and health issues like anxiety, promotion of physical activity and health education.

“The available evidence reveals that Games for Health are very promising to prevent and treat obesity, reduce stress, prevent smoking, and contribute to many positive health outcomes among children. This White Paper offers a road map for the activities that need to occur to achieve that potential,” Dr. Baranowski explained.

In earlier years, some video game ideas spotlighted by G4H included games geared at addressing fitness, chronic disease, empathy, and diet.

“Gaming technology is playing an increasing role in care delivery and the management of health and wellness,” Richard Scarfo, Vice President, Personal Connected Health Alliance at HIMSS, said last summer. “Our strategic partnership with Games for Health compliments PCHA’s support of the full continuum of technology-driven health and wellness. Gaming technology is becoming an important addition to social media, wearables and mobile health, as well as an adjunct to clinical care management.”

What do you think? Could video games be used to improve the health of our children? Would such games be able to keep our children’s attentions?

On the physical activity front, the very popular Wii Fit exercise games, which were the brainchild of computer whiz Shigero Myamoto, included games like tennis, bowling, baseball, boxing, and golf. Kids and adults enjoyed playing them for a while, but most experts agree that they fell short of making very many kids more fit.

“Electronic gimmicks do not appear to be the solution for the physical inactivity problem that we have in this country,” Joseph Donnelly, EdD, an exercise physiologist and a professor of health sport, was quoted as saying several years ago. “You’re not going to be able to play a Wii game for 15 or 20 or even 30 minutes and get the kind of energy expenditure that is the same as six to eight hours.”

Take a look at some of the G4H submissions, and let us know in the comments below if your child or a child you know might find them interesting enough to become enthralled by them in the same way the children get with Lego Dimensions or Roblox.

Speaking of “blox” though, one great example of a video game that has both managed to enthrall kids while having a positive effect on them is Minecraft. Kids love Minecraft, and the game has demonstrated therapeutic effects. They can spend an entire afternoon in the world of Minecraft. So maybe, with the right game developers and the right direction, there really is a lasting place for video games in the health sector.

[Image via Pixabay]