Wii. DDR. EyeToy. These interactive video games, which are designed to promote fitness, have taken the gaming world by storm.

Nintendo’s Wii Sports and Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) are among the new “exergames” that require users to stand up and move to participate.

Exergaming is beneficial because “it keeps (kids) in a culture of movement as opposed to a culture of (inactivity),” said Michael Rich, M.D., FAAP, director of the Center for Media and Children’s Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.

But just how effective are these games as exercise tools? A study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that participation in more intense games like Wii Boxing or DDR was comparable to moderate-intensity walking. However, another article in the same issue notes that while exergaming uses significantly more energy than activities in which a player remains sedentary, it does not provide as much benefit as participating in actual sports.

Experts offer the following advice on the use of these games:

Exergaming is not a replacement for traditional exercise. Instead, it should be the gateway to other physical activity or a supplement to a bigger exercise plan.

Use the games as a rainy-day or winter activity. When possible, though, encourage kids to get outside and play.

Beware of “Wii-itis” or overuse injuries. “Stretch appropriately and pay attention to your body. If something starts to hurt, stop,” advises Gwenn O’Keeffe, M.D., FAAP, of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.

Choose games carefully. Some, like DDR, have proven benefits. But others, like Nintendo Wii, can be ineffective. “You can cheat, you don’t really have to move your body a lot,” said Lisa Hansen, Ph.D., who heads the exergaming research lab at the University of South Florida. She said the Wii’s benefit is “dependent on the energy level of what’s expended by the child.”

Pick a system that has multiple games, so your child has variety and wants to continue exergaming.

©2010 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.