Gaming the System

A study says 'exergames' actually count as physical activity for kids

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Lightspace Corp.

Having trouble persuading your kids to get outside and get moving? It turns out you can just let them stay home and play video games after all.

All right, so not any video game will do. But as new research shows, so-called exergames, which require lots of physical movement to play, can be enough to help youngsters break a sweat and reach their daily recommended levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

For the study, scientists asked children ages 9 to 13 to play a variety of commercial and consumer exergames, including Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Boxing, Xavix's Jackie Chan Alley Run and LightSpace's Bug Invasion. The researchers report that when playing these games for 10 minutes, children expended at least as much energy--and with some games, nearly twice as much--as they did walking on a treadmill for the same amount of time. Not only did the gamers burn more calories but, not surprisingly, they were also more enthusiastic about their exercise. The researchers were particularly encouraged by the fact that the overweight children in the study liked the exergames the most, suggesting that they could be an effective way to entice heavier children to become more active.

The study is among the first to document that exergaming activity can help kids meet health officials' recommendations for exercise, which is crucial for maintaining healthy weight and avoiding conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The authors are hoping that more school systems will start testing exergames to see if they can boost children's physical activity and fitness in the real world. The challenge, of course, will be to keep notoriously fickle youngsters interested in the games long enough: if kids stay engaged, fitness experts hope their indoor fun might even translate to other kinds of active play, such as sports or other organized activities, outdoors.

Sources: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine; Nature Medicine; Lancet; Nature Genetics

PREGNANCY

A Blood Test For Down Syndrome

Every pregnancy carries the risk of birth defects, but the odds of certain disorders like Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation, increase with the mother's age. So with more women deciding to have children later in life, better ways to detect such conditions can help parents decide as early as possible whether to terminate a Down-syndrome pregnancy or prepare to raise a developmentally challenged child.

Now researchers say a simple test of Mom's blood might be able to identify Down syndrome in fetuses from 11 to 14 weeks old. The screen is still in early testing, but it correctly identified 14 Down-syndrome cases and 26 normal fetuses. Because Down syndrome is caused by an extra set of chromosomes, the test picks up and amplifies telltale signs in the fetal DNA present in the mother's blood. Currently available tests for Down syndrome involve amniocentesis--in which a bit of fetal tissue is removed from the womb through a needle--and bear a small risk of miscarriage, so a less invasive blood test could become an important, and safer, part of prenatal care.

TISSUE SCIENCE

Man-Made Body Parts

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