Video games may encourage healthy behavior

Video Games

Kids around the world playing video games might have new comebacks at their disposal the next time their parents demand they put down their controllers.

In a study published April 8 in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, a Yale School of Medicine group synthesized prior research on electronic media’s role in improving kids’ behaviors. The research examined how educational computer games, video games and other media forms can be used to promote healthier lifestyles. The findings reveal that, using these media platforms, teenagers can see positive changes in managing asthma, increasing physical activity, improving their diet and learning general safety skills.

Associate Professor of Medicine and study co-author Lynn Fiellin MED ’96 explained that researchers spearheaded the study to supplement progress made through Yale’s Play2Prevent Initiative, which develops innovative video games to educate youth and young adults on ways to prevent risky lifestyle behavior. Their most recent development, an iPad application called PlayForward: Elm City Stories, aims to help teens learn about HIV prevention strategies.

“This prompted us to want to systematically review the literature and the science to see what had been published in the area of electronic media — including videogames — for the purpose of behavior change in youth,” said Fiellin, who also serves as the director of Play2Prevent.

After using the MEDLINE and PsychINFO scientific databases to investigate every study in the past 50 years that aimed to direct electronic media to changing young adults’ behavior, the researchers pinpointed 19 studies to include in their final analysis. These studies analyzed a variety of effects in teenagers including changes in physical activity, nutrition, asthma management, general safety and risky sexual behaviors.

In analyzing the results of these studies, the research group discovered that common behavior changes accompanying increased participation in instructive computer games included greater consumption of healthier foods such as fruit or vegetables, increase in physical activity, improved asthma management, greater abstinence from sex and improvements in street and fire safety skills.

Fiellin admitted that limitations in the research group’s findings stem from the quality of the studies they identified. To assess the quality of the trials used in the studies, the research team evaluated each study’s methods by allocating points in categories such as randomization and blinding. Only five of the studies were rated as “excellent” in terms of the methods used, she added.

Some of these forms of electronic media also offer limitations because of their potential lack of availability to kids and teens, according to the study’s lead authors. In an April 8 news report found on the health news website dailyRX, the study’s authors explained factors ­— such as minimal access to the internet and other computer-based technologies — that may impede promoting health and safety behaviors in the youth.

Yale School of Medicine associate research scientist Kimberly Hieftje, a lead author of the study’s final report, and other members of the team hopes to expand its research. Fiellin said they plan to use these results to modify their Play2Prevent videogame and use new strategies in creating similar future technologies.

The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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