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5/10/2012
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Patients Like Active Video Games As Fitness Tools

Most consumers believe that video games that force them to get up and move around can improve their health, says study from UnitedHealth Group.

9 Health IT Tools Patients Should Understand
9 Health IT Tools Patients Should Understand
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A survey conducted by UnitedHealth Group suggests that consumers are warming up to the idea that video games can help them improve their health. Seventy percent of respondents said that physically active video games can be a complement or supplement to traditional exercise.

In the survey, conducted in collaboration with market research firm ORC International, 74% of respondents said video games should have a component that encourages physical activity.

Further, a majority of participants (54%) said that physically active video games would encourage them to be more active. Sixty percent of those with children in the household said kids should be encouraged to play physically active video games as a complement to traditional exercise. The poll relied on interviews with 1,015 adults who were contacted in April.

[ Read Feds Turn To Video Games To Solve Problems. ]

"People's perceptions around gaming are starting to change," Bob Plourde, VP of innovation and research and development for UnitedHealth Group, said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. "People are starting to see the potential of what the technology can do to help them become more physically active."

Like other health plans, UnitedHealth Group is looking for ways to use technology to encourage members to monitor and improve their health. Plourde said his company conducted the survey because it wanted to know people's current sentiments about using video games as a way to exercise.

Plourde said the company also is hoping to interest vendors in developing video games that incorporate tracking mechanisms so users can see, for example, what their heart rate was, or how many steps they took, or how many calories they burned while playing a game.

"We are trying to develop a way for United Health members to monitor their progress and bring that into an overall wellness program for themselves," Plourde said. "I envision that a person will be able to track their activity levels while playing these video games and then upload the information into a personal health record (PHR). That information could be part of an employer rewards program."

Getting Americans to become more physically active might be a challenge. Just this week, new figures from Duke University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that over a third of U.S. adults are obese and that number will grow to 42% by 2030.

The statistics also show that half of the severely obese adults were fat as children. Overweight people are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and a number of other ailments.

"There is no silver bullet to this problem," said Plourde, commenting on the obesity statistics. Our goal is to really try to hit these individuals early in life, hit them often, and try to really change their lifestyle. If we can get them doing different things in different ways to get them moving and active that's going to be very helpful."

The UnitedHealth Group's plan to to inject gaming into consumer's activities focuses on developing three areas:

-- Gameplay, which leverages games that people can play to improve their health. Examples of these are console games such as Kinect Sports and Dance Dance Revolution, which get people up and moving who might not otherwise be inclined to regularly exercise. The idea is that games that feature physical activity could serve as a supplement or a catalyst to increased physical activity, especially among overweight children.

-- Gamification, which incorporates game mechanics and psychology into work applications to make real-world health and fitness more engaging and fun.

-- Game technology, which explores how technologies and devices traditionally built for video gaming might be used in nontraditional ways to improve patient care and condition management in clinical and home settings.

UnitedHealth Group has launched several programs with video gaming elements, including:

-- UnitedHealth Group's JOIN for ME program, which helps overweight children whose body-mass index (BMI) is above the 85th percentile to slim down and develop healthier habits.

-- Baby Blocks, which uses a game-like interface and incentives to encourage pregnant Medicaid plan members to get prenatal care and schedule well-baby visits.

-- OptumizeMe, a health and wellness mobile application that enables users to create fitness challenges and invite their friends to join.

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