In fight against childhood obesity, even playground games get a grade


In a decade when some schools have banned the game of tag for its potential to cause physical and emotional damage, a recent study suggests the game may have an upside when it comes to fighting obesity.

Scientists from Children’s Hospital Boston and the University of Massachusetts recently tracked the energy expenditures and enjoyment levels of 28 third-graders as they played 30 common playground games. When the numbers were crunched, the “tag-type games” ranked highest in both calories burned and enjoyment, according to the study published last month in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Tag-type games involve frequent and short bouts of intense running and thus can result in high levels of physical exertion,” said the study’s senior investigator, Stavroula Osganian. “They also require less skill than other games, so all children can feel comfortable participating or playing in this type of game.”


The news may give a boost to health and education advocates who have been pushing school districts to reinstate recess in the school day. The American Assn. for the Child’s Right to Play says national recess rates have fallen steeply over the last two decades. In Chicago, only one public elementary school in five offers recess, according to the advocacy group Healthy Schools Campaign.

Osganian, director of the Clinical Research Program at Children’s Hospital, said she believes the study presents an argument not just for offering recess but for encouraging semi-structured games that are more likely to get the kids moving, even burning an extra 200 calories a day.

“Recess can offer an important opportunity for young children to engage in games that expend significant amounts of energy while having fun,” she said. “This could potentially help prevent the development or persistence of obesity, especially in schools with children at high risk.”

The games with the lowest calorie expenditures were those with little social interaction, such as Monkey in the Middle, and those that involved periods of standing still.

Here’s a blog post from Children’s Hospital Boston with more detailed information about how different games scored.

-- Monica Eng / Chicago Tribune