Some LI schools putting the fun in fitness

Children play active video games at St. Patrick's

Children play active video games at St. Patrick's Elementary School in Huntington. School officials have decided to use video games to try to get children off the couch and into more vigorous physical exercise. (Sept. 19, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Some Catholic school and health care services leaders on Long Island say video games have made many children more physically passive and increased obesity, and often are addictive.

But they also say they know video games aren't going away. So they've decided to tap into them to try to get children off the couch and into more vigorous physical exercise.

The result is a new program the Diocese of Rockville Centre and Catholic Health Services are launching in the diocese's 43 grammar schools. Led by a Mount Sinai-based company that specializes in active video games, the program -- funded by a $140,000 grant from Catholic Health Services -- kicked off this month.


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"The old way -- doing jumping jacks -- doesn't appeal" to many children these days, said Richard Sullivan Jr., chairman of Catholic Health Services. "We have to deal with it. The gaming industry is not going anywhere."

On Wednesday, the Mount Sinai company, iGame4, set up four workout stations in the gym at St. Patrick's Elementary School in Huntington. Students took turns imitating dancers on 100-inch screens as pop tunes played, or, at another station, took karate chops at pieces of fruit that appeared on the screen.

The program uses motion-controlled gaming systems such as Nintendo Wii. The group will visit each of the diocese's grammar schools for two-week stints, including a "family night" when parents and siblings can join in.

"It's a big problem -- getting kids motivated to be active," said Al Pisano, president of iGame4. "What better way to motivate them than a video game? It's something they connect with already."

"This is a fun way for them to understand what they can do for exercise," said Sister Joanne Callahan, superintendent of diocesan schools. "We see childhood obesity -- there's not enough exercise."

She attributed part of that to video games, which she said can become "addictive" and keep children from playing outside enough.

Some students at St. Patrick's said they enjoyed Wednesday's session.

"You can dance a lot and you move a lot," said Isabella Acerra, 8, a third-grader. "It feels like you are dancing with a person on TV."

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