Wii Fights Obesity, Study Shows

Playing the Wii is a great way to combat childhood obesity, a new study has concluded.

The game may be virtual, but the physical exertion wih Wii is very real.

Unlike traditional hand-held video games, where users sit on the couch exercising little more than their thumbs, the Wii features digital sensors that let users virtually play the game.

In Wii Sports, a game that comes with the console, users mimic the motions used in sports like bowling, tennis and baseball. In other words,

Some gamers even complained of “aching backs, sore shoulders — even something some have dubbed “Wii elbow,” like a tennis elbow.

Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan downplayed the reports, saying the company hadn’t received any complaints from users about soreness. “If people are finding themselves sore, they may need to exercise more,” she said. “It was not meant to be a Jenny Craig supplement.”

Nevertheless, some gamers started turning the Wii and other similar active gaming consoles into a new form of exercise, and medical researchers are touting their health potential for more than just weight loss.

A research team at the University of Toronto is developing a “therapeutic video game” to treat children who suffer from hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that can partially paralyze one side of the body. If the children regularly use their weaker side, their motor function can improve. The problem is getting the children to do so outside of therapy sessions. Active video games might do the trick, thought William Li, an undergraduate engineering student at the University of Toronto who is conducting research at the university’s Bloorview Kids Rehab teaching hospital.

But weight loss is still probably the biggest health benefit the Wii will have for users. Active video games like the Wii can fight child obesity, according to a report published by the Mayo Clinic in the January 2008 issue of Pediatrics.

In that study, researchers found that children burned three times as many calories playing “active” video games versus playing traditional hand-held video games. Because the study was done before the Wii debuted, researchers tested Sony’s EyeToy and Microsoft’s Xbox.

Lorraine Lanningham-Foster, the report’s lead researcher, expects the Wii to have the same effect. “If children are up moving around versus sitting down, then they’re going to burn more calories,” she says.

“One of our hopes was that people would find a way to enjoy the Wii sitting on the couch or getting up and moving their body around,” Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan says. “This huge fitness craze was more than we had anticipated.”