Konami might not be a familiar name in healthcare, but gamers likely recognize the Japanese company as one of the pioneers of the video game industry that successfully transitioned from jukeboxes to arcade games to home video game systems in the 1980s. And now, in partnership with UnitedHealthcare (a division of UnitedHealth Group), the company is entering the field of public health, offering their DanceDanceRevolution Classroom Edition as a pilot in three schools in Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
"It's part of a broader initiative we have to reduce childhood obesity," said Will Shanley, Director of Public Relations at UnitedHealthcare. "A big portion of that is the idea of 'exergaming.' The reality is that kids need to be engaged in fun and interactive ways. It's important to meet them where they're at. Kids enjoy playing videogames. If we can have them have fun and get exercise, it'll build lifelong habits toward fitness. We think this is one important way we can engage kids."
DanceDanceRevolution, or DDR, began as an arcade game in Japan in 1998, moving to America and Europe in 1999. It's since been released for a number of home consoles. To win the game, players must step on one of four arrows in time with the music and onscreen instructions. The game uses popular songs and the dances increase in speed and complexity as the players progress. The ubiquity of the game led to its being used in a number of peer-reviewed studies that showed it could encourage increased physical activity for young people and even be helpful in autism therapy.
Konami announced the classroom edition of DDR in April 2012. The version provides 48 wireless dance mats, enough for a large class, and is connected to a PC rather than a gaming console (as in the home versions). Each mat contains a smart card which can hold data for an individual student, allowing the student and the teacher to track BMI and calories burned playing the game. The teacher enters the students' age, height, weight, and gender and the mat combines that information with game data to estimate steps taken, caloric burn rate, and other data points, Clara Baum, senior director of marketing and strategic partnerships for Konami, said in an email. The school can set up the system so students and their parents can see all of their data via a secure website.
Konami has also announced upcoming partnerships with the American Diabetes Association, the National Foundation on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move in Schools campaign, to bring DDR Classroom Edition to more schools. There are dance and physical education curricula built into the system as well, following the standards of the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE), and school-appropriate music provided by Sony Music. Outside of partnerships, schools can also purchase the system at a variable pricing structure depending on the number of mats needed and whether the school needs a screen and sound system. Baum said the system is already very popular.
"We’re just launching, so limited systems are deployed in classrooms," she told MobiHealthNews in an email. "But believe it or not, we’re sold out. We’re in full production, but all of those systems are allocated."
UnitedHealthcare is also launching a pilot program using Xbox Kinect, Shanley said. That program, which is currently gathering efficacy data, will test the potential of exercise videogames in the home as a public health tool in the fight against childhood obesity.