[Bike] Escape

$10 Million to Escape Fat City

The story of NIH spending $10 million on a video game to help kids escape fat city has something to annoy everyone.

Let’s start with offensive stereotypes that promote weight bias. The game’s hero is an athletic youth who falls into a fat city — the kingdom of Diab with an evil, fat ruler who forces his people to eat out of vending machines. It’s a nightmare scenario where the athletic hero must teach his fat friends from Diab how to eat healthy, exercise, and escape. The typecasting is pretty clear.

For people who get ticked off by absurd, wasteful spending, this story pushes all the right buttons. A total of more than $9 million was paid for a video game developer, Archimage Inc, to come up with this game, along with another one about saving the earth from obesity and type 2 diabetes. The games were developed between 2003 and 2008, so you know they’ll be making a big splash with kids any day now.

If none of that troubles you, then consider the premise of this project — using video games to promote healthy behaviors. NIH is funding studies of the impact of these games on kids who are made to play them in a controlled setting. They found that kids who played the games ate two-thirds of a serving more of fruits and vegetables per day. They didn’t drink more water or increase their physical activity. It’s a dubious benefit. Simply eating more of anything — without eating less of something else — does little to help.

Screen time has long been associated with insufficient physical activity and a risk of weight gain. Is anyone surprised that these video games did nothing to promote physical activity?

In the midst of an underfunded, serious agenda for obesity research, this tangent makes little sense.

Click here to read more in the Christian Science Monitor and here to read a study of these video games.

[Bike] Escape, photograph © Fabrizio Sciami / flickr

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