Is Wii Worthy of American Heart Association Accolade?

"The logo's not for sale. What we're doing is promoting a message that's incredibly important."

Family Physicians Have Mixed Feelings on AHA Endorsement of Wii

Family physicians were split over the AHA's apparent support of the Wii gaming system as a fitness tool. Dr. Andrew Carroll, a Chandler, Ariz.-based family care physician, said that the activity encouraged by the system at least entails more physical engagement than traditional television watching.

"I'm fully for encouraging children and adults to use interactive gaming and activity as a form of encouraging active behavior," Carroll said. "For years, we would sit in front of the 'idiot box' and be fed entertainment or information without interaction. Now exergaming, as well as the ability to chat during such gaming, encourages activity during entertainment as well as socialization to some degree... It's hard to wolf down Cheetos when you have a Wii controller in your hand."

And in its corner, the Wii has a growing body of research that suggests at least some benefits for certain users.

"I think it is appropriate for a specialty organization to recommend a genre of commercially available products which, it believes, have been shown in independent research to be useful," said Dr. Dilip Jeste, director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. "Some studies have reported beneficial effects of exergames in reducing body weight in overweight children, adolescents, and young adults."

Still, some doctors -- Jeste included -- expressed reservations over the idea of the AHA recommending a particular product.

"If a specialty organization believes that there is sufficient evidence of this type, it can recommend exergames as a class of products for specified purposes and in selected populations," Jeste said. "However, it should not recommend a specific product... unless there are independently conducted randomized controlled trials establishing its superiority over other types of exergames."

"I have misgivings for any medical organization giving its stamp of approval to a particular product," said Dr. John Messmer, associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at the Penn State College of Medicine in Palmyra. "I do not see such approval spurring people to exercise. Rather, it will benefit Nintendo's profits more than it will increase activity among Americans, in my opinion."

"Although I think that anything that gets people moving and staying active is good, and these games have accomplished that for some individuals, I think medical organizations need to stay clear of specifically endorsing a product," said Dr. Randy Wexler, assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus.

And Dr. Neil Brooks, a Vernon, Conn.-based family physician, said he feels certain trade-offs between exergaming and traditional sports participation cannot be ignored.

"It may be argued that [exergaming] results in more calories burned, improved balance, hand eye coordination and other skills," Brooks said. "But how does that compare to the effects of de-socialization, lack of one on one and team competition, the recognition of weaknesses and utilization of strengths?

"I have a hard time picturing a specialty society doing this without severe criticism."

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