West Virginia University researchers are studying if video games blamed for turning kids into brogdingnagian couch potatoes can get them on their feet and physically active as well.

Linda Carson, the Ware Distinguished Professor in the School of Physical Education, is spearheading research into the health benefits of playing the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution. The West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency is funding the study.

In my whole career, Ive not seen something that has an appeal to a wide age range and can sustain interest in physical activity the way this does,Carson said.

Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR , is a fast-paced game in which participants perform dance moves as instructed on a video or television screen. Players dance on a mat with sensors that record their every move. They earn or lose points based on how well they perform the dance instructions.

While popular at arcades, DDR is also available as a home video game for anyone with Xbox or PlayStation2 consoles. Schools are also including the game in physical education classes, and DDR is a favorite activity at Carsons Choosy Kids Club, an after-school fitness education program for children in Monongalia and surrounding counties.

The beauty of DDR , Carson noted, is that children get a workout without knowing it because as far as they are concerned they are playing a game.

Todays children have grown up with screen timeTVs, computers and hand-held devices,she explained.Many health experts have said screen time has been part of the problem with childhood obesity.

What makes this game unique is it is played with your feet instead of your thumbs, so you become more active,she added.What weve done is taken what children relate to and considered that it could be part of the solution.

The nine-month study will involve 85 children ages 7 through 12 who are either overweight or at risk of becoming so. Because PEIA is funding the project, the study is restricted to children whose parents are enrolled in the PEIA PBB primary health plans.

Half the children will receive immediate instruction in DDR , a home version of the game to play and envelopes in which to mail their progress with the game. The remaining children will not receive the game to take home until the second 12 weeks, at which time they must report their progress while the initial study group will no longer be monitored.

All of the children will undergo physical exams at the outset and three and six months later.

By examining the children every three months, researchers will be able to determine both the health benefits of DDR and whether children are continuing to play the game, Carson said.

PEIA is hopeful the study will help reverse obesity among West Virginia adolescents, said Nidia Henderson, the agencys health promotions director.

Obesity among children in our state is at epidemic proportions, and in the past the approach of health professionals in relation to physical activity has been to discourage children from screen time,Henderson said.While thats one reasonable strategy, we think this is even a more promising strategy that appeals to todays children.

Other researchers are Drs. William Neal and Irma Ullrich from the School of Medicine; Rachel Yeater, chair of the Division of Exercise Physiology; Guyton Hornsby, associate professor of exercise physiology; David Donley, assistant professor of exercise physiology; and Emily Murphy, Extension specialist.