It seems that whenever people talk about obesity, the topic of kids’ screen time comes up. And while it’s certainly possible that there’s a connection between a child’s weight and how much time he or she spends watching TV and playing video games, some fascinating research is finding that technology—as long as it’s the right kind—might also help kids combat obesity and better manage their weight. If you’ve ever played one of the sports games on XBox/Kinect, you know just how sweaty video games can get you. Here are three examples of how this works:

  • According to a recent Pew Internet study, 78 percent of teens have cell phones—nearly half of which are smartphones. So if you want to reach teens, the phone may be the best place to start. And that’s exactly what Dr. Susan Woolford of the Pediatric Comprehensive Weight Management Center at the University of Michigan and her colleagues have done. Woolford created a program that sends out targeted texts to overweight teens, with messages about reducing screen time, eating healthy meals, and reducing high-calorie foods (which will, in turn, reduce obesity). Before starting the program, each teen fills out a questionnaire (about favorite foods and activities, etc) that helps the folks running the program individually tailor the text messages.
  • Other researchers are using cellphones to combat obesity. Dr. Nicolas Oreskovic, of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy, has teens wear accelerometers and GPS devices in order to track where and when they get their activity. His goal? To “help urban planners design cities and towns to promote a more healthy and active lifestyle in children.”
  • New research just published in the journal Obesity has found that some video games—in particular those that fit into the “exergames’ category. According to the Wall Street Journal, the goal of the study was to identify effective ways to encourage adolescents to be more physically active through videogames. So they had a group of obese African-American teens play the Wii version of Sports Active with a friend for 30-60 minutes per school day for 20 weeks. And the results were impressive. The teens who played the game with a friend lost 5 pounds more over the course of the study than a control group of kids the same age who didn’t play any exergames at all.
    “Faced with a pediatric obesity crisis, our nation urgently needs sustainable physical activities that promote healthy weight in youth,” said lead author Amanda Staiano, Ph.D., of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA in a press release about the study. “In the past, light-to-moderate energy expenditure has been documented during exergame play; however, this is the first study to demonstrate weight loss among teenagers as a result.”
    According to the Journal, other researchers, including Sandra Calvert, Ph.D., and Anisha Abraham, MD, of Georgetown University have found that, not only do exergames support weight loss for African-American teens, but that when adolescents work together as a team, they’re more effective in using exergames to lose weight.