Activity monitor game increases youth fitness

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Based on a submission by Cynthia Ching about her NSF-funded project to educate teens about personal health.

Lifestyle-driven disease is responsible for nearly 70% of deaths in the United States, and there is a current epidemic of child and adolescent obesity. Urban minority youth are most at-risk for these health concerns. Videogames are often blamed for youth sedentary behavior and obesity, but games can have a positive impact on health. In this project, some youth players had difficulty increasing their out-of-school fitness due to poor neighborhood safety and limited outdoor activity spaces. These youth were more motivated when they played the game to be active during school-based activities such as lunchtime and PE. The connections between activity tracking and gaming designed for this project, as well as resulting insights into how and why youth are motivated or constrained in their everyday choices, will be vital as tools for not only the current metabolic health crisis, but also for addressing other kinds of social challenges that require behavioral change.

Landscape of Terra with alien creatures
and spaceship base

As a result of playing a videogame that syncs with 24/7 wearable monitors, youth ages 11-14 are increasing their fitness awareness and physical activity. Initial results suggest that, contrary to popular belief, game features involving customization are more motivating than competition for increasing physical activity. Active-display wearable devices are also necessary for youth to pay close attention to their real-world behavior. Finally, youth strategies to become more physically active are sustainable when they involve taking advantage of existing opportunities for exercise, rather than trying to invent new ones.

NSF Project Information

Title: EXP: Educating Teens to Understand Personal Health (GET-UP)
Award Details

PIs: Cynthia Ching, J. Bruce German

Based at the University of California Davis, this project is a collaboration among learning scientists, health researchers, game industry and fitness-device industry leaders, and award-winning commercial game designers. Together they have created Terra, a futuristic online game about a team of scientists attempting to explore and terraform a distant planet to provide a new home for the citizens of Earth. The game can be played on any web browser and is appropriate for a variety of educational contexts.

Learn more at the GetUp project web site.

Image Credits: C. C. Ching