- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia, which has one of the nation’s worst obesity problems, is expanding a project that uses a video game to boost students’ physical activity.

All of the state’s 157 middle schools are expecting to get the video game “Dance Dance Revolution,” and officials hope to put it in all 753 public schools within three years. A pilot project began in 20 schools last spring.

Students 10 to 14 years old are being targeted first because it is a key point in children’s development, said Linda Carson, a professor at West Virginia University’s School of Physical Education in Morgantown.

Those are the ages “when children really begin making more of their own decisions and a time when they could easily choose to be more sedentary,” said Miss Carson, who is conducting an ongoing research project into the video game’s health benefits.

Game players move their feet on a special mat to correspond to arrows that scroll on the TV screen. The player must tap the same symbols on the mat at just the right time to do well.

The game is not meant to replace physical education and health classes. Rather, it is one more option that may appeal to students who dislike other sports.

“If we can get children to change their behavior at a young age, they hopefully will grow up to be healthy, active adults, which would have a positive effect on health care costs,” said Carl Callison of Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield.

West Virginia is consistently among the top three states for obesity, with about a third of its residents considered obese and even more considered overweight, according to the state Bureau of Public Health.

Extra weight can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers and other problems. West Virginia leads the nation in high blood pressure and is fourth in diabetes.

Overall, the game is expected to be available to 279,788 public school students statewide.

The statewide project is expected to cost $500,000. Game manufacturer Konami Digital Entertainment in Redwood City, Calif., has agreed to provide $75,000.

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