Game tackles obesity

High-tech play equipment has just been launched in a bid to tackle childhood obesity by encouraging exercise that’s both challenging and fun.

High-tech play equipment to engage the ‘Playstation generation’ has just been launched in a bid to tackle childhood obesity by encouraging exercise that’s both challenging and fun.

The inventors of i.play believe that the fast-paced feedback and constantly changing goals of electronic gaming hold the key to children enjoying challenging physical activity without realising how hard they are working.

In 2004, leading UK play equipment manufacturer Playdale approached Progressive Sports Technologies (Progressive), a spin out company from Loughborough University, to develop a new piece of equipment to encourage energetic play.

In a game of up to six children, i.play issues each player or team with a sequence of tasks to test speed, agility, coordination, strength and stamina by running, jumping and twisting to hit high, low and mid-positioned activity switches.

Like a games console, it offers multiple levels of difficulty so players can improve their skill and view statistics to monitor their performance both during and after the game. Children can upload their scores to the online league table at www.intelligentplay.co.uk. Although developed for a core 8-14 age group, i.play is also suitable for adults, wheelchair users as well as visually and hearing impaired players.

Progressive used heart rate monitors on both adults and children to test the prototype equipment and software to make sure i.play enabled children to exercise at appropriate levels of intensity.

‘Stealth exercise is at the heart of i.play technology,’ said Prof Mike Caine, Managing Director of Progressive and i.play co-inventor.

‘If you make play equipment interesting enough, children will push the boundaries of their abilities in just the same way as they do with computer gaming as they are so focused on improving their score. This distracts children from the discomfort of high intensity exercise, making them more likely to exercise for longer or harder, which in turn maximises the health benefits,’ he said.

The research into stealth exercise continues: a wearable oxygen analyser is being used to assess how many calories children are burning on two i.play systems already in use in Leicester and Barrow in Furness.

i.play’s potential has impressed Walkers, part of PepsiCo, so much that it has installed it as a feature of its ‘Parks for Life’ initiative. The first of these playgrounds featuring i.play were officially opened earlier this month by Gary Lineker in Reading and Leicester.

‘We’ve had a really positive response to the playgrounds so far and hope that they will be enjoyed by local families for years to come,’ said Neil Campbell, Chief Executive of Walkers Crisps.