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The President’s Active Play Challenge

Interestingly, it looks like the White House is getting into the action (literally). Recently, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition announced an initiative to encourage Americans to start exercise using…wait for it…active video games!

I should explain that the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition is not political in nature. Its history goes back to 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower established “The President’s Council on Youth Fitness”. The council continued through President’s Kennedy and Johnson, and most recently, was re-invigorated by President George W. Bush and continues under President Obama today. It consists of 25 volunteer citizens with a lot of familiar names: New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, Olympic Gymnast Dominique Dawes, and other sports legends from Grant Hill to Billie Jean King to Michelle Kwan…they were nominated under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and they don’t get paid a salary for their involvement, which is commendable.

On April 30, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition made a joint announcement with the Entertainment Software Association on the Active Play PALA+ Challenge. The challenge, in a nutshell, is that if you’re an adult you have to commit to playing an active video game at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week for six weeks. If you’re a kid, you need to play an hour a day.

How do you keep track of the time you work out? They’ve got a site for that. You can create an account to track all of your activity online (if you’re paranoid about the government tracking your every move, you can always create a fake Gmail account :)).

Once I created an account, I was a little surprised to find that I was placed into a “group” along with 50 people I didn’t know. Okay…not too creepy.

presidents challenge with strangers

It’s not a very complicated site. The gist of it is that you sign in every day and log what kind of exercise you did that day along with the number of hours. Surely enough, there’s a drop-down option for “video games – activity promoting”, along with a huge list other physical activities like walking, baton twirling, rodeo sports, and…um…”wallyball”.. You get “points” for every exercise you put in. Obviously, you’re on the “honor system” as to whether you really do it.

Presidents challenge logging activity

You can also set “nutrition goals” for yourself, by basically choosing some “tips” from a list and saying you did them. For example “I ate seafood”, “I drank water instead of sugary drinks”, and so on. You get “points” for each goal you set. The goals are:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make half the grains you eat whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt, or cheese.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Choose lean sources of protein.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup and frozen meals and choose foods with less sodium.
  • Eat some seafood.
  • Pay attention to portion size.

Not bad advice, of course.

The site also lets you post a message to the group of strangers. When I got onto the discussion board, there was whopping 2 topics posted 🙂

Now, I won’t kid you. While this isn’t a bad idea, the execution is kind of weak. It looks like the site is trying to be like the EA Sports Active online experience, where each member of the “team” could see how many “points” they got cumulatively and compare it against others. But I don’t think I’m going to get into the habit of signing into this site every day and inputting every little bit of physical activity I did. And I doubt I’m going to feel like I’m in a “community” anytime soon with 50 strangers. The one thing that the developers probably are finding out right now is that these kinds of “log in every day and mark down every minute of the day you spent playing wallyball” sites just don’t work. Think about it–how many people do you know who are fastidiously logging their daily activity into Wii Fit Plus or EA Sports Active?

I think the first company that figures out how to integrate a video game, a smartphone, and a PC into an integrated exercise experience will crack that nut (do you hear me, Adidas or Nike?)

Still, since your and my tax dollars paid for it, I figure maybe I’ll stop by from time to time to try to get my money’s worth 🙂

Another odd thing I noticed about this program is the games that the Entertainment Sports Association claimed are “active games”. Take a look at this list (the links take you to the information the publishers provided on how to use their games as part of the PALA+ Challenge)

Really, EA Sports? Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is your exergame of choice? To me, this just confirms to me that EA Sports has given up on the exergaming genre, after all those units of EA Sports Active and EA Sports Active 2 that we bought from them. First they discontinue their online support. Now, they name a game where you stand and swing your arms as an “active game”, when they have one of the better exercise games out there (but their marketing department just doesn’t want to push it anymore). You’re better than that!

My gut tells me that Sony is also walking a thin line by putting  MLB 12: The Show  on the list while they’re dragging their feet in releasing Move Fitness to the US, but I’ll let you know for sure when I review MLB 12: The Show on PS3Fitness.Com.

That said, the other games seem to be pretty good for active gaming (Nickelodeon Dance is a little light in the workout intensity, but perfectly suitable for little kids). But this list definitely doesn’t represent  the best (then again, that’s what you have this site for, along with xboxfitness.org and ps3fitness.com, right? :)).

Overall, I’m not sure exactly how popular this initiative is going to be; while it seems very well-intentioned, other than putting up what appear to be hastily-assembled splash pages about it on their Web sites,  it just doesn’t feel that any of the ESA members are really putting much of a push behind it (which I’m sure the PCFSN was hoping for when they reached out to the ESA). And the Web site that the PCFSN put together to track fitness goals wasn’t even nearly as advanced as what even games like Wii Fit were doing years ago.

So, I just played an hour of video games and went back to the site to update it, and this is what I found:

Yes sir, your tax dollars at work…although one interesting tidbit you can see here is that the site is hosted at Indiana University, which means it’s probably a bunch of college kids putting together the site using some grant money.

Okay, I’m being a little cynical, but like I said, the thought was a good one. Obesity is a growing problem in this country, and whatever the public and private sector can do to bring awareness to better nutrition and better physical activity, more power to them.

Plus, there’s some added incentive to complete the program. According to the Web site:

Individuals who achieve the physical activity and healthy eating goals will receive a certificate signed by PCFSN Co-chairs and are able to purchase a certificate signed by the President of the United States!

Now while this sounds great, I’m guessing the “certificate” from Drew Brees and Dominique Dawes will be an attachment in an email, but I’ll let you know in six weeks (and yes, I’ll do it honesty :P). I’ve already seen the certificate “signed” by the President. It costs 50 centers, plus only $5.95 for standard shipping that’s arrive in 18 days. Uh huh. And I doubt that President Obama is really signing these, although maybe they’ve got Joe Biden in the White House basement doing it…

Just kidding of course…even if the signatures aren’t real, just the ability to get a certificate of some kind will probably be appealing to kids (Kids love certificates–I still have my prized “presidential fitness” certificate from 3rd grade “signed” by Jimmy Carter!). So this might be a fun thing to challenge the kids to do for a few weeks. And who knows, they (and you) might just pick up some good habits from it, which I think is the whole point of the program!

 

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