Poole examines 'exergaming' effect on childhood fitness

Erika Poole, assistant professor of information sciences and technology, presented a colloquium about "exergaming," the concept of exercising using video games, to students in IST 590 on Monday, Jan. 24.

The colloquium titled "Fitness Video Games: Health or Hype?" covered the research surrounding childhood obesity and the use of video game technology to combat this concerning trend.

In her presentation, Poole began by proposing that “exergaming” was a fad. As the basis for her research, Poole examined what it takes to keep children healthy: self-motivation, parental support, a safe and appealing community and national and state policies providing health education. She questioned how to fix the issue of childhood obesity.

“To actually address the issue, you have to look at it at multiple levels,” she said.

Poole described the different types of active gaming and how, while they do decrease sedentary television watching, they do not substitute for activity such as sports play. She emphasized both the pros and cons that come from use of “exergaming” in the American household.

Research conducted with more than 1,500 American schoolchildren over a two-year period showed that, while use of video game equipment such as X-Box Kinect and Wii Fit could be healthy, there also was a lot of hype surrounding their use.

While 83 percent of American children have access to video game systems useful in “exergaming,” and these systems help track activity, do not market food, and encourage activity indoors, they are easy to cheat, replace outdoor and other fitness activities, and often have a novelty effect that wears off after a certain amount of use.

Poole moved on to discuss “pervasive gaming.” This type of gaming included research done on school-aged children, called the “Horsepower Challenge,” part of the Humana Games for Health. In the study, each child wore an accelerometer and was able to “check-in” to their classroom. Their steps were added to an online game that pinned schools and classes against each other in a race around the world. Winning students earned funding for health and physical education in their school.

“Kids liked being physically active,” Poole said.

The study revealed that winning schools found ways to reinforce the importance of the game to the children such as showing them their steps each day and looking at where they ranked against competitors. Children also encouraged their friends to play with them so that they could increase the steps they brought back to their classroom.

Poole stressed a few key points for students to learn from this research.

“Move for 30 minutes every day,” she said. Activity as mild as taking a walk around campus can lead to a healthier lifestyle, she concluded.

Poole also encouraged game designers to “know the audience” and have a target demographic for their game.

Poole’s research focuses on technology and integration of healthy living. She holds a doctorate in human-centered computing from Georgia Institute of Technology as well as an master of science degree. in computer science from Georgia Tech, and a bachelor of science in computer science from Purdue University.

Last Updated July 07, 2011