U children’s health study is a game

Tiff Clements

Thirty-five elementary students at Minneapolis’ Seward Montessori School have spent the past month practicing their “Dance Dance Revolution” steps.

These students, along with about 40 others from three Minneapolis schools, have been perfecting their taps, jumps and turns in the name of science.

Kinesiology graduate student Rachel Wetzsteon designed an exercise study implementing “Dance Dance Revolution,” a video game that allows players to dance on touchpad mats following onscreen cues.

The study will test the game’s effects on bone strength in children aged 9 to 12, along with changes in their body composition and physical fitness.

Wetzsteon said while there have been a few other studies using the game, this one is unique.

“We’re the first to do a bone study,” she said.

Wetzsteon said children often lose interest in physical fitness studies that involve monotonous activities such as running on a treadmill.

“We wanted to do something kids would be interested in,” she said. “We thought this would be a fun way to increase activity.”

The study, which is funded by the kinesiology school, will last four months. Participants play under the supervision of researchers after school one day a week. Researchers also provided each child with an Xbox to take home and use for 30 minutes, three times a week, she said.

Before the study began, participants came to campus to have some measurements taken.

Wetzsteon and her research team of four graduate students and 12 undergraduates ran tests and took a variety of physical measurements. The tests included bone scans, measurements of height and weight and strength tests.

Children aged 9 to 12 are at a key age in bone development, she said, and the stepping and jumping involved in “Dance Dance Revolution” is good for bone formation.

Wetzsteon said her greatest concern is that participants will become bored with the study.

“We want them to stay interested in playing the game,” she said.

Fourth-grader Amy Vang said she practices at home more than just the required half-hour three times a week.

“I play about the whole night,” she said.

Wetzsteon said many of the students are playing more than they have to. Parents also are involved, making sure children play the required hours each week.

Fifth-grader Mai Hang said playing the game has become a family affair.

“My whole family likes to play,” she said.

As additional motivators, Wetzsteon recruited four high school students to showcase their moves. The high school students play the game with the children and show them how plenty of practice can translate into higher video game scores.

Minneapolis Southwest High School senior Tyler Kempton said he has been addicted to the game for about eight months.

Kempton visited an after-school session Tuesday at Seward Montessori to help motivate study participants. He said he heard about the University study from a friend and wanted to help.