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Dance Dance Revolution® Begins a New Chapter on the War Against Child Obesity

Dance Dance Revolution® Begins a New Chapter on the War Against Child Obesity

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"I can't dance," admits David, a student at a middle school in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. He watches his sister clumsily step in time to the beat blasting from the game console before her and adds, "But I don't like running laps, either."

David's dislike is echoed by many students in schools across the country. Physical education periods are often about calisthenics and team sports, which can be the stuff of nightmares for children troubled by poor body image or for those who may not possess the abilities of other students.

Still, physical education plays a vital role in the health of our children, and its importance cannot be understated or ignored. In a country experiencing an obesity epidemic, particularly among its youth, P.E. programs offer consistent and structured methods of weight control. In an effort to address the needs of all of their students, physical education departments of many school districts have been moving away from more traditional sports in favor of more inclusive activities that de-emphasize competition. The rationale behind this shift is that it will attract many students who have avoided such activities in the past, believing that they lacked the skill to excel.

The Revolution Comes to America

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's fitness initiative gained momentum with his official introduction of the popular video game Dance Dance Revolution® into the state's schools. The move echoes the strategy of West Virginia's legislature to improve health and fitness by making the game a fixture of physical education programs throughout its 765 state-sponsored schools.

Before finding its way into American schools, Dance Dance Revolution® was developed by Japan's Konami Digital Entertainment and introduced into Japanese arcades in 1998. Today, the game is currently enjoyed by a significant portion of the population throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.

Players step in time to the beat of a song played through the game's console, matching their steps to arrows that scroll on a screen in front of them. Different versions of the game incorporate varying levels of difficulty. At the end of play, players are scored and graded in terms of how well they were able to match their steps to the rhythm of the chosen song. One of the advantages of Dance Dance Revolution®, particularly in light of schools' shift toward less competitive activities, is the inherent self-competition the game engenders. Instead of competing against a team of individuals, gamers are pitted against their own individual scores.

Since its American release, Dance Dance Revolution® has found its way into both public arcades and homes. It is now available in a number of formats with a growing library of songs and has spawned a legion of spin-offs.

Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

The use of Dance Dance Revolution® in promoting physical health and fitness is ironic given the harsh criticism video games have often received for their alleged contribution to the nation’s obesity epidemic. However, this "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

A study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic seems to support the belief in the benefits of playing Dance Dance Revolution®. The study confirmed that children who played the game expended a greater amount of energy than children engaged in more sedentary pursuits such as watching television and playing traditional video games. Responding to the results of the study, one parent added, "They seem kind of obvious. We better not let the kids know they are doing their bodies good."

Marvin Elementary in Los Angeles was the first California school to officially integrate the game under Governor Schwarzenegger's fitness initiative. Other schools throughout the state had already begun to work the game into their physical education programs, including about 40 other schools also in the Los Angeles School District. Additionally, current plans have more than 1,500 schools across the country incorporating the game into their physical education programs by decade's end.

Back in Chula Vista, David watches as his sister continues to groove to the music. "I hope we get it," David adds. "Maybe my sister can learn to dance." She slaps him gently on the shoulder, missing a step, but smiling all the same.

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