Experts Say Video Games Could Be Used to Promote Health

Gameplay could be used to help young patients understand and manage conditions, according to editorial

(RxWiki News) Discussion of how video games impact young people is usually focused on violent imagery and other negatives. But some doctors think the games could be used to push health and wellbeing in children.

Lynn Fiellin, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues outlined evidence “that video games can be used for good.”

In their editorial article, these authors focused on how the set up of some video games may help build skills through goal-oriented, rule-based play.

“The role video games may play for good as they increasingly pervade the landscape of youth demonstrates the need to examine them fully for their potential for wider-scale and higher-impact promotion of health and wellbeing," the authors wrote.

"Young people spend more time with media than they do in school — it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping," explained Robert Kotas, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Baylor Medical Center at Garland.

"Although television is still the preferred media activity, video games have increased substantially. They are played on gaming consoles, iPads, smartphones and social networking sites. Almost all children have experienced video games, and half of all kids play them daily," Dr. Kotas told dailyRx News.

"As a primary care pediatrician, I discuss video games and multimedia with my patients daily. We discuss the negatives associated with video games. Violence, sex, substance abuse and obesity have all been linked to gaming. I discuss removing multimedia from bedrooms, decreasing screen time to two hours per day, and the importance of household rules," he said.

Citing work from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Dr. Fiellin and team wrote that 97 percent of kids play computer, Internet, mobile or console games. Of those, 50 percent played video games daily.

That widespread adoption could be used to engage children, particularly when played on a mobile device that travels with the child, the authors wrote.

"This article has challenged me to also consider the benefits of certain video games. Their manuscript discusses 'serious games,' which are games for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment," said Dr. Kotas.

"Their group discusses that certain games can serve as educational tools for disease management of HIV, asthma, diabetes and cancer. Virtual reality games can offer insight into the minds of young people. Youth have been shown to model real life decisions practiced in virtual worlds," he said.

Dr. Fiellin and colleagues pointed to the 2006 game Re-Mission from the HopeLab Foundation for young cancer patients. In this game, the player controls a nanobot that goes into the body to fight cancer. Different levels teach the patient about sticking to treatments and how those treatments work.

“Researchers demonstrated improvements in knowledge, self-efficacy and adherence to chemotherapy among those who played Re-Mission in comparison to a control group,” the authors wrote.

They called for more development of health-oriented games along with study of effectiveness.

"In my own practice, I have tried to steer my heavy gamers toward exercise gaming, or 'exergaming,'" Dr. Kotas said. "This is certainly not a prescription for weight loss, but has been shown to increase energy expenditure when compared to sedentary gaming. Unfortunately, the intensity of most exercise games is low to moderate, and the bursts of exercise are short in duration." 

Dr. Fiellin and team also wrote that video games could be used to learn healthy behaviors that translate into real life. Another component to explore is using video games to collect patient data, the authors wrote in their editorial.

"This technology is in its infancy, but I agree with the authors that emerging evidence shows that some games have the potential to promote health and well-being. This is an opportunity to reach out to youth in their favorite medium," said Dr. Kotas.

"We should support research that is evidence based. I will continue to recommend monitoring the content and time spent playing these games. Hopefully, with time, we may discover a silver lining in this encompassing digital landscape," he said.

The editorial by Dr. Fiellin and colleagues was published online Oct. 5 in Pediatrics.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institutes of Health funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 3, 2014