Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk investigates the power of Nintendo's Wii and virtual gaming to improve the health and well being of society.
Depending on whose statistics you prefer to disbelieve, between 15 and 25 percent of American children are overweight.
The causes seem evident to all commentators: too many Whoppers and Gorditas, too many days moving less often that Mitt Romney's face and too many hours watching "Desperate Housewives" and killing people through the thrilling medium of "Grand Theft Auto" and its ilk.
The sad fact is, though, that educators have found it rather hard to persuade children to leave these wonders behind and embrace gyms, football fields, nature walks and steroid-free baseball. (Chasing celebrities with a camera has still not been approved by any Board of Education.)
However, five schools in Worcestershire, (pronounced Wuss-tersha) England have created a new form of class. They have named it Virtual PE, and it consists of talking the kids into playing on a Wii console.
Nintendo's stellar success with the Wii brings with it the strange byproduct that, unlike most other video games, players have little choice but to move.
In a bizarre philosophical twist, the fact that players have demanded more realism in their games has caused them to do the one thing for which they have shown little enthusiasm-- move.
The Worcestershire schools have used heart monitors to measure their students' fitness. The program has been such as success that the "British Medical Journal" declared that games like Wii "significantly increased participants' energy expenditure."
This latest success follows the revelation that surgeons apparently slice more accurately after a Wii warmup. Kanav Kahol and Marshall Smith of the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona found that surgical residents improved their scores on a virtual surgery training tool by 48 percent.
But it isn't swinging a virtual club or bat that improves their skills. Marble Mania, a game that requires minute wrist-flicking to propel a marble through a maze, is apparently the perfect hors d'oeuvre for the main course of an appendectomy.
It is clearly a sign that humanity has turned a corner when apparently mindless entertainment can have such positive effects on the world's health.
Perhaps the makers of Wii should consider creating a game that mimics one of America's greatest sporting traditions. The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Championship is held every year, naturally on the 4th of July. It seems always to be won by someone with a large epiglottis and a mass not exceeding 110 pounds. I can just see America's children becoming hooked on the repeated motion of hot dog being stuffed down throat.
No child would want to be left behind in that game.