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Are Wii Kidding Ourselves?

Jun 2, 2008
The Nintendo Wii Fit was released to the public recently with much ballyhoo. If you haven't seen the Nintendo Wii game system, it is the latest evolution in video game playing where players use the remote to mimic real-life actions such as a tennis forehand. The players' physical actions are then played out on the screen.

The Wii Fit is a "game" that according to the Nintendo website can increase your fitness levels. "By playing Wii Fit a little every day, you, your friends, and your family can work towards personal goals of better health and fitness," the site claims. While I have yet to use the game at all, I can say that I am highly skeptical that this will make a dent into America's growing obesity problem.

The Wii Fit comes with a balance board that the player uses to interact with the game. When you first start the game, the Wii Fit assesses your balance - which is important in your overall health, but is usually not a concern to anyone who is not a senior citizen or recovering from injury.

It then moves on to perform the Body Test, which is more balance assessment, followed by the calculation of Body Mass Index (or BMI). BMI is a very flawed measure of one's fitness, as it measures the ratio of one's scale weight to one's height. So, on the BMI scale, the following people are considered Overweight or Obese:

- Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees
- Tom Brady of the New England Patriots
- Lance Armstrong of cycling fame
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Sylvester Stallone

See where I'm going with this? Scale weight does not account for the amount of lean body mass someone is carrying. That is why body fat percentage is the gold standard for measuring one's fitness.

Also, measuring BMI on anyone under 19 is very inaccurate. This already has become an issue for Nintendo, as a 10-year old athletic British girl was assessed as being Fat by the game. Obesity experts jumped on Nintendo immediately, rightfully stating that the game could cause irreparable harm to a child's body image. Nintendo has since added a disclaimer that the BMI feature is meant for adults only, but hasn't taken the step of deactivating it in the game for child users.

The game goes on to calculate a Wii Fit Age for the user based on your balance test results, actual age, etc. Again, this is a very shaky measure of one's fitness that could mislead people.

The Training section of the game is broken down into four sections: Yoga, Balance Games, Strength Training and Aerobics, all of which can be done without spending the $89.95 suggested retail price for Wii Fit.

Let's break down the Strength Training section as an example of some of the flaws in this game. The first exercise is a Single Leg Extension, which is more of an exercise in balance than a strength training exercise. Also, leg extensions do not mimic a real life use of the leg, and the leg extension machine is perhaps one of the worst machines in the gym.

The next exercise is torso twists, which is more of a dynamic stretch than a strength building exercise, especially in the absence of any weighted bar or dumbbells. That is followed by the push-up and side plank. Now, I'm a big fan of both of these exercises, but they are not for the de-conditioned. Most men are not capable of doing pushups with correct form, and women usually start out with the modified push-up until they have the strength to do regular form.

The next exercise, jack-knifes, is for people who are advanced in their training. It violates one of the basic principles of fitness professionals around the world - never put a de-conditioned person on their back on the floor for anything. Lastly, the game makes the user perform lunges, which are great muscle builders. However, like stated before, you don't need to buy a game system to do them.

Overall, I give Nintendo credit for trying to make a game that tries to get people to be more active, which is more than can be said for other video game manufacturers. However, this will not do anything in terms of chipping away at the American obesity problem. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that the video game industry needs to follow the route of the tobacco and alcohol manufacturers, and state that excessive use of their product could lead to inactivity and obesity, rather than try to make a half-hearted effort at increasing American activity levels.

Rather than letting your kids play Wii Fit while you watch TV in the other room, here are some things that you can do together:

- Go for a brisk walk
- Group session with a personal trainer
- Navigate a confidence course
- Play catch with a football or baseball
- Kick a soccer ball around
- One-one-one basketball
- Walk and play a par 3 golf course
- Family yard work or snow shoveling!

You'll save money on electricity and form stronger bonds with your kids as you increase your fitness levels together.
About the Author
Matt Lisk is a fat loss expert who has used his knowledge to lose over 80 pounds of body fat, reduce his body fat percentage to under 10% and to resolve a variety of health issues he was experiencing. He is the author of Lean State University's Fat Loss 101 Newsletter at http://leanstate.com
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