Games for Health: Exploring How Video Games Can Improve Health and Health Care

“Children learn by doing, human beings learn by playing,” says John Lumpkin, M.D., M.S. in public health, senior vice president and director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Putting important information into a game may be the best way to learn and get healthy, says Lumpkin. “Between everything that I’ve done as a physician about trying to improve health, and the video games that I used to play just for enjoyment, I began to realize that games could play a very important role, not only in encouraging people to exercise, but games could help people learn about their health and, even more importantly, can help them manage their illness if they are sick.”

This is where the Games for Health Project comes in. Founded in 2004 and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Games for Health has been bringing together game designers and developers, medical professionals, researchers, and others for the Annual Games for Health Conference to share and discuss the role of video games in health care.

The three-day conference, held in May, included more than 400 participants and 60 speakers covering topics such as active gaming, rehab, and physical therapy, disease management, health behavior change, biofeedback, epidemiology, training, nutrition and health education, and cognitive exercise.

“It’s about using the power of games, whether it be game design or technologies, to solve problems in health and health care … we’re in the problem-solving business here,” says Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the Games for Health Project. Despite the relative infancy of this unexplored area, games are already having a serious impact on keeping us in shape and active, helping our health treatments with therapeutic and rehabilitative interventions and maximizing our cognitive abilities.


With youth obesity on the rise and fewer young people involved in organized sports, the gaming industry has come up with active gaming or “Exergaming” — the combination of exercising and video games — to encourage a less sedentary lifestyle. This includes games like “Dance Dance Revolution” or” iDance,” interactive floor and wall systems, the Wii fitness program, and the Brain Bike and Gamercize equipment, by Exergame Fitness, that have participants move in order to activate their game console’s controller.

In West Virginia, Dance Dance Revolution has been incorporated in the physical education curriculum and is currently available at all middle and high schools, with the help of the Using Video Games to Promote Activity multistate grant from the USDA.


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