Motivational gaming gets more middle-schoolers to exercise, study shows

By: Neil Versel | Sep 25, 2012        

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Zamzee badgesGetting people to embrace motivational gaming for health and fitness may be a struggle, but some new data suggest that the concept works well when used properly.

Results of a study presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in San Antonio, Texas, found that 59 percent of adolescents using Zamzee, an activity meter that resembles a USB drive, had higher levels of physical activity during a six-month test when they had access to a motivational website than those who did not.  Exercise prompted by extra motivation helped reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, according to the study, sponsored the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Zamzee developer HopeLab, Redwood City, Calif.

HopeLab is a nonprofit organization that applies technology to improving the health of children, adolescents and young adults.

For this study, the group gave Zamzee, which has an accelerometer to measure both quantity and intensity of movement, to 448 middle-school-aged kids from urban, suburban and rural environments nationwide. Half also had access to Zamzee.com, where they could upload data from the devices and earn points – and rewards – for staying active. The other half were only able to upload data, not receive motivation.

Those with access to the website in addition to the device averaged 45 additional minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week, or 59 percent more, than kids in the control group. The difference was more striking for girls, who had a 103 percent increase in their activity when they used the motivational site. Overweight adolescents had a 27 percent higher rate of exercise after six months.

Data reported at the obesity conference indicated that “bad” LDL cholesterol levels fell in the children who regularly used Zamzee, and these participants also had better control over hemoglobin A1c levels than those in the control group.

“This study shows that technology is not just part of the problem; it can also be part of the solution in helping kids be more physically active,” HopeLab R&D Vice President Steve Cole, a professor of medicine at UCLA, says in a press release. “These results also show that Zamzee can increase physical activity enough to improve some of the key biological processes that underlie the long-term disease risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.”

HopeLab sells the Zamzee meter for $29.95, and there are no recurring fees for use. Access to the Zamzee.com motivational website is free.