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Exclusive: Interview with Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo and Anthem Blue Cross about exergaming

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BCGofCamarilo logoWith the fear of child obesity steadily on the rise in California, Anthem Blue Cross and The Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo have joined forces to improve the health and physical well-being of children in California.

To find how the idea for project began, I was spoke with both Dr. Harvinder Sareen, director of clinical programs for Anthem Blue Cross, and Bill Locker, CEO/President of the Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo.

According to Locker, it started when Dr. Sareen visited The Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo with an idea to improve the health of children through video game consoles.

“She asked about the idea and we said we were very interested,” Locker said. “We then did some research on exergaming and thought it would be a great program for our kids. Some of the kids at the club can be embarrassed or intimidated to play a ‘real’ sport because of the need for eye-hand coordination. But, with the video games, there is room for error and the need for good coordination is decreased. We feel that having the kids active is vital to their success and this program ensures that all of our kids will be active.”

Sareen explained that Anthem Blue Cross is always focused on improving the lives of the people they serve and the health of their community and said the exergaming project is a continuation of that work to get kids involved in healthy, active lifestyles as well as teach them about the importance of good nutrition.

“When the Kinect technology was brought to our attention, we liked it and thought it had great potential to help kids and teens increase their physical activity levels,” Sareen said. “We discussed the exergaming concept with members of our Childhood Obesity Physician Advisory Committee and decided the best place to put a motion gaming console is where kids get together to have fun and socialize. The Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo was the perfect fit. Finding an after-school setting like the Boys & Girls Club for the Kinect was important because we really wanted to maximize the benefit of the device and make sure a lot of kids could use it.”

Sareen explained that, because today’s child is less healthy than the previous generations, a need for this type of program is necessary.

“The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 30 percent of California’s children and adolescents are overweight or obese and the rate of obesity among those age groups nationwide has tripled since 1980,” she said. “In short, our kids are less healthy than previous generations and that’s a big problem because it puts them at greater risk for long-term health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. It is critical that everyone – including parents, educators, businesses, politicians and health plans – works together to help our kids grow up healthy. And we need to find solutions that work with our daily lives.”

Sareen said that, according to a national survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 97 percent of America’s youth are playing video games which illustrates just how ingrained gaming has become in today’s culture. She added that, while society wants to move children outside to become more active, it may be challenging for those living in unsafe neighborhoods.

“Exergaming is proving to be an additional option to consider,” said Sareen. “Although relatively new, market analysts and industry experts agree that exergaming is a growing trend, helping people of all ages move from being sedentary to being more active. In fact, this is one of the reasons we set up our project as a pilot study to evaluate the impact of Kinect on children’s physical activity levels, engagement, and other measures.”

Locker said that, with the number of children that visit the BGC of Camarillo and the funding from Anthem Blue Cross to purchase games, TVs and staffing for the project, the program will benefit the children and hopes the data they provide Anthem Blue Cross will reflect that.

“We work with the over 300 kids a day that come to the Club and the benefit is that the kids in the program will be active and that they will increase their physical activity and decrease their BMI,” Locker said. “I am hopeful that our data will reflect that kids can get physical benefits from engaging in sports and dancing through video games.”

BGC of Camarillo previously received grants of $95,000 in 2009 and $50,000 in 2010 from the Anthem Blue Cross Foundation to support health and wellness programs in the past.

“We’re excited to work with the Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo to pilot exergaming at their club,” Sareen said. “The exergaming program will break club members into age groups in order to study the effect of regular exergaming on physical activity levels. Participants will be surveyed and assessed for their weight, height, Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference, as well as their physical activity and nutrition habits, both before and after the program.”

She said the program will also allow researchers to determine whether or not video games will really help children become motivated to stay active while learning the importance of good nutrition and the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.

“One of the biggest things anyone can do to prevent obesity and maintain a healthy lifestyle is to engage in regular physical activities and exercise,” said Sareen. “Now, a lot of people will tell you they don’t like to ‘exercise’ but the point we’re trying to make is that exercise does not have to mean running in place or doing push-ups. Exercise is any kind of physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving your body. This can include activities such as taking a nature hike, riding a bicycle or playing basketball. It can also mean playing physically-intensive video games that require you to move around. Exergaming, when combined with good nutrition and other healthy lifestyle practices, is a way to engage kids to stay healthy, physically active and enhance social skills.”

Ultimately gaming is a family decision and it’s up to the parents to decide whether they want their child playing video games or not.

“What we’re seeing is that exergaming can encourage kids, even those less inclined, to be more active and experience a variety of sport activities in the convenience of one location, in this case, the Boys & Girls Club,” she explained. “Recent studies, including one published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, show that exergames get kids up and moving, burning energy at levels comparable to what is recommended to keep kids healthy. What’s more, that same study found that kids with higher Body Mass Indexes (BMIs), which included those who were either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, enjoyed exergames more than kids of normal weight, though all of them expended similar amounts of energy. So, there is a growing body of evidence that video games, if used properly, can help boost activity levels.”

“The ultimate goal of all of this is to increase physical activity, encourage healthier lifestyles and add to the evidence-base on healthy exergaming,” said Sareen. “Video games are everywhere, so if we can help kids understand how to use this technology to improve their health, we just might make a dent in the rates for childhood obesity.”

Image source [courtesy of The Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo] Read [Press Release] Site [Anthem Blue Cross] Site [The Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo]

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