Exergaming for better health
Researchers are taking a serious look at video games' potential for motivating healthy behaviors in all kinds of patients.
Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a dozen studies nationwide through its Health Games Research program to determine what makes interactive games effective. Another $2 million for additional projects will be awarded this year.
While health games are attracting interest now, that wasn't always the case, says Debra Lieberman, director of the research program, headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "It used to be treated with skepticism by the medical community," Lieberman says. "Now, major health care organizations are prescribing or even developing games."
The results of the 2008 studies aren't yet in, but Lieberman already has spent years researching the effects of interactive games she's helped develop for chronic disease management. In one study, game-playing diabetics reduced their need for emergency care by 77 percent, she says, showing how effective health games can be: "It's a way to reach certain populations that can't be reached by other means."