For most of my childhood I was a big kid. About the time I turned 16 I decided I didn’t much enjoy being overweight anymore. So I did what any teenager who wanted to shed some pounds would do: I joined Weight Watchers. Without a doubt, it was uncomfortable being the only teenage male among menopausal women. But if I was an overweight teen nowadays, I would have a new, less socially awkward way to lose some weight: the Nintendo Wii, “Wii Sports”, and the company’s latest release, “Wii Fit,” which came out last week.

Studies show that childhood obesity is on the rise. The increase is likely due to the inactive lifestyle and bad eating habits exhibited by many kids. Oh, how I fondly remember lying on my couch, watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and eating McDonald’s double cheeseburgers. Those were undoubtedly good times, but those greasy patties of goodness greatly increased my risk of suffering from serious health problems like coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is dangerous, which is why any effort to decrease the number of overweight children in this country should be welcomed.

That’s where the Wii and games like “Wii Sports” and “Wii Fit” come in. “Wii Sports” involves moving the video game controller to simulate the movements used in real sports. For example, to play the tennis portion of the game, players must move their controller just like they are swinging a racket in a real tennis game.

The new “Wii Fit” can do some pretty sweet things. It can keep track of your body mass index and record your improvement in four types of physical activity: yoga poses, muscle workouts, aerobic exercise and balance games. If I could only go back in time and watch my overweight self attempt to do the “King of the Dance” – which Nintendo maintains is indeed a real yoga pose. Sweatpants with grease stains plus Zen equals sex appeal.

But are the Wii and its more physically focused games really going to decrease the number of overweight kids? Not likely.

Nintendo’s marketing of its game system emphasizes the Wii’s ability to get kids off the couch and moving. But new research may refute the company’s claims that it will save humanity from the plight of childhood obesity. A study in the British Medical Journal showed that someone playing “Wii Sports” only burns about 60 more calories an hour than someone who is playing a traditional sedentary video game.

And the new “Wii Fit” game might burn more calories than that, but it’s no substitute for playing real sports, attending Weight Watchers meetings and making real lifestyle changes. If kids truly want to lose a large amount of weight, they’ll have to do more than play the Wii. A healthy diet and working out a few times a week can’t be replaced by a controller and a joystick.

While Nintendo’s “Wii Fit” won’t decrease childhood obesity substantially, it may make kids more knowledgeable about health and fitness. Games like “Wii Sports” may be the impetus to get kids to join real tennis leagues or start playing baseball, which is a great thing because the development of healthy habits during adolescence is critical to having a healthy adulthood. So the Wii may actually be doing some good, but no parent or youngster should expect a miracle.

It took a lot of hard work to lose weight when I was 16, and it doesn’t look like dropping some pounds will get any easier because of the Wii. But at least with the help of Nintendo’s yoga, you’ll have the new-found, name-brand spiritual peace needed to make it though all those awkward conversations at Weight Watchers about dressing for your body type and Oprah’s latest diet.

Tom Michniacki can be reached at tmich@umich.edu.

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