11/26/2012 11:19 EST | Updated 01/26/2013 05:12 EST

Games For Health: Active Video Games Not Backed By Fitness Advocates

TORONTO - Active video games may help get kids off the couch, but child fitness advocates say they shouldn't be seen as a substitute for real exercise.

Active Healthy Kids Canada has released its official position on active video games after convening an international panel of researchers to look at the latest evidence on the subject.

The organization says "exergames" are a good way to break up the time kids spend being sedentary. However, they're not as good as having kids play real active games or sports.

The group also says playing active video games doesn't lead to increased overall daily physical activity levels.

It is recommended that Canadian children and youth get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity daily.

In its Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth released in May, Active Healthy Kids Canada found that kids were only getting 24 minutes of such activity daily at lunch and after school.

The report card also found 63 per cent of kids' free time after school and on weekends was spent being sedentary — a reference to activities that involve little physical movement and a low expenditure of energy.

Walking quickly, skating and bike riding are examples of moderate-intensity physical activities, while running, basketball, soccer and cross-country skiing are examples of vigorous activities.

"The research shows the movement in active video games may get heart rates up briefly, but usually not enough to meaningfully contribute to the 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity children and youth require daily," Active Healthy Kids Canada chief scientific officer Mark Tremblay said in a statement on Monday.

"Active video games also don’t offer the fresh air, vitamin D, connection with nature and social interactions that come with outdoor active play."

In its official position, Active Healthy Kids Canada did outline potential upsides to using the technology. For kids with developmental delays, movement challenges or injuries, the group noted in its recommendations that such games can be used to help teach motor skills, improve movement and rehabilitate.

The international panel of researchers convened by Active Healthy Kids Canada conducted a review of best-available scientific evidence examining 1,367 published papers.

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