Dancing The Pounds Away

Mark Shephard, 18, and Stephanie Bellman, 18, follow the arrows on a television screen while using the video game Dance Dance Revolution during their health class Thursday, March 17, 2005, at Morgantown High School in Morgantown, W.Va. The school is one of 20 participating in a pilot project in the state using the video game to increase activity and fight childhood obesity. (AP photo/Joe Sadlek)
Like many other 11-year-old boys, K.D. Jones loves sports. But at 5 feet, 175 pounds, he found his weight and his asthma an obstacle.

His doctor wanted him to lose 50 pounds, and he is hoping a new health study using a video dance game will help him get down to 125 by the end of summer in time to play football.

Jones is one of 85 children in an at-home study trying the popular Dance Dance Revolution video game to boost their activity. The study is being done by West Virginia's public employees insurance group in hopes it will lead to better health and lower costs.

Jones lost about 10 pounds by changing his diet. Now, after two weeks playing the game, he has lost another 10.

"I feel a lot better," he said. "It's a lot easier to play basketball now."

His enthusiasm has his mother, who also struggles with her weight, giving the game a try.

"It's a lot of fun," Joyce Jones said. "But I can only do it about two times for every four times he does."

The West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency, which covers 215,000 state workers, teachers and their dependents, believes it is the first insurance provider to use the game to cut costs. Konami Digital Entertainment America, which distributes the Japanese game in the United States, knows of no other state or insurance agency using the game for its health benefits.

"Today's kids are tomorrow's members," said the insurance group's Nidia Henderson. "Obesity claims last year cost us $77 million. We have to curtail those costs."

The insurer is providing a game console, dance pad and software for the six-month, $60,000 study. West Virginia University is providing the medical screenings and tracking results.

The students, all children of PEIA-covered employees, are required to meet with researchers, play the game a prescribed amount of time, wear a pedometer and maintain a log. They get to keep the game software and pad.

So far, about a dozen kids have started playing the game. They will be re-evaluated after three months and again at the end of the study.