Experts outraged that Wii Fit calls children “overweight”

WiiFitGraphES_468x353.jpg

Keep your inner foul-mouthed Mexican teenager sequestered here. You’ll have to take a few deep breaths to maneuver your way past the sensationalist tone and outright dishonest claims about the nature of Wii Fit to find the few decent criticisms at the core of this Daily Mail article. You’re probably going to want to throw a stick of butter and shout “WHY SO SAD, FATTIES?” at the obesity experts in the UK criticizing Wii Fit for daring to call their overweight children overweight. But it seems to me that there’s something to their complaining.

Summary: leading obesity experts in the UK are upset that Wii Fit uses BMI to pigeonhole children as being underweight, ideal or overweight. They are calling for the sale of Wii Fit to be banned for children. Wii Fit heavily uses the BMI measurement system, which isn’t terrible as a very vague rule of thumb but, as an actual scientific system of determining health or attractiveness, is utterly worthless. More over, one of the Daily Mail’s examples is that a 10 year old girl who weighed 84 pounds at 4 foot 9 was classified as “overweight.” If true, that’s either a serious bug or a loathsomely narrow definition on Nintendo’s part of what constitutes fitness. However, that seems to be the sole data point in the evidence of the critique… hardly the sort of thing people who aren’t already desperate to be offended would get up in arms about. It could simply be a broken Wii Fit board.

Like I said, the tone of the piece is both indignant and dishonest: they claim that children are being told they are “fat” in Wii Fit, even though the actual terminology is the far more neutral “overweight.” Perhaps that’s a semantic niggle, but it’s the difference between telling a kid they need to do a bit more exercise and calling them an Orca and warning people not to get within splash zone for fear of mucus membrane infection. On the other hand, should a program marketed to kids be calling them overweight? Only doctors and parents should be telling that to a kid. A far better approach would simply be to encourage kids to become more active, not merely to get their BMI within a target zone. Wii Fit could have kept its own damn criticisms to itself and still helped a kid get in better shape.

I don’t have Wii Fit, gleaning all my information about how it works from reviews online, so perhaps this is all being wildly blown out of proportion. If you own Wii Fit, what do you think? Is this much ado about nothing, or was there a better way for Nintendo to handle this? Perhaps a more sensitive and less judgmental Wii Fit children’s mode?

Obesity experts condemn Nintendo’s Wii ‘Fit’ game after it tells 10-year-old girl she’s fat [Daily Mail]

This entry was posted in nintendo. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Experts outraged that Wii Fit calls children “overweight”

  1. themindfantastic says:

    perhaps an update to account for age to understand that weight at a person who is a prepubescent 4’9″ is much different than a post pubescent 4’9″, I mean lets face it that extra weight is useful when a person hits their growth spurt, being too lean can potentially be a problem for that spurt, or so I would think. But then, I am not an expert here or on TV.

  2. jgriffiths says:

    @13

    I agree with LUDWIGTHE2ND, this feels like a case of a ‘newspaper’ (it is the Daily Mail after all) assuming that because Wii Fit is a game, it must be for kids.

    Not only do games encourage your kids to sleep with prostitutes and then murder them, but they call them fat while they’re doing it!

  3. lynch says:

    The numbers given give a BMI of 18.2 which is underweight according to the BMI standards.

    This is either a nasty bug or a problem with data entry.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If anyone reads the instructions, it says not for kids under 20 years of age. People start to Bull about everything real quickly. Please read the booklets before complaining about it.

  5. misshappypants says:

    Originally, the Wii Fit was aimed at adults over children.
    It even says it on the box.
    I think they are making an edition, or have made an edition, for kids.

    I’m a teen, I use the Wii Fit, and I know for a fact that it isn’t accurate. I’m fairly sure that I don’t look Obese. Overweight, sure I can handle that, Obese, well even for an adult I highly doubt it.

    If you don’t like it, why did you buy it?

  6. Captain Kibble says:

    Sorry but the BMI isn’t only terrible as a rule of thumb it is utterly without any worth as a measurement whatsoever. Using it to decide if children are healthy or not is highly irresponsible.

  7. Bugs says:

    “this Daily Mail article.”

    “the tone of the piece is both indignant and dishonest”

    Anyone surprised?

    For future reference: You should assume that any “expert” who appears in the Daily Hate is either being misquoted or doesn’t deserve to be called an expert.

  8. BetterLivingThroughScience says:

    i have a scale that has a little minus (underweight) ,o (ideal), plus (overweight), and double plus (obese) on it’s display when you step on to get your weight. How exactly is this any different? And why is it a problem again? Out of all the things in a girl’s life, the one that sets off her eating disorder is going to be wii fit?

  9. Jim Rizzo says:

    There are actually quite a few scientific studies that link BMI to disease. It’s not completely useless, but it is not the only means by which one should measure health. It makes for a great base, but there is more to it than just BMI, such as waist size and body fat content.

    As for the little girl in the example, BMI, from what I understand, is meant for adults. If someone is still growing, all those measurements are thrown off. Unless a child is grossly overweight, children should not be as concerned about their weight so long as they are getting proper exercise and eating healthy.

    So I can understand the problem they have with that, though I don’t think WiiFit was necessarily marketed towards children. BMI, while not the best measurement, makes for an easy guide. The balance board can get your weight and you give it your height and BMI is then easily calculated. So I understand both side of the issue and there’s really no easy fix other than to say “Not for children under age 18″ or have a disclaimer about BMI not being a fully accurate measure of one’s health and fitness level.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Name: Ed

    You can’t just measure obesity by BMI on the Wii fit. My wii fit tells me I’m obese slightly. I’m 27, 6’1″ and weight 185 pounds. Now no one here knows what I look like but if you saw me in public you’d probably tell me to eat more! The fact that I’m about 10% body fat though makes a whole WORLD of difference. Muscle weighs more than fat. So I’m several pounds ‘overweight’ even according to my own doctor, but when he saw that it was muscle mass then passed it off as an accidental calculation. What that fit DOES need to come out with is a finger attachment to send a pulse through your body to measure your actual fat %. That would be a more accurate measure of obesity, rather than just taking a height and weight calculation. But I’m neither here nor there on the topic of the fit, I love my Wii and Fit and hope everyone else likes it. If your kid jumps on it and it says they’re fat, ignore it. Most kids GROW OUT OF their ‘extra’ so to speak. If you get that upset about it then put it up for sale on ebay, they go like hotcakes.

  11. joncro says:

    both indignant and dishonest….. sounds just like the Daily Mail.

  12. RyanH says:

    Also, BMI is useless for people who are in good shape, specifically men.
    I’m 5’10 and 175 lbs which gives me a BMI of roughly 25 which is right on the cusp of being ‘overweight’. The catch is that very little of it is fat. I’ve always been naturally lean and hit the gym fairly regularly. I’m no bodybuilder, but I’m definitely in shape.

    Almost all of the guys I know who spend time in the gym are technically ‘overweight’ based on BMI. Muscle weighs more than fat does. Someone with a lot of muscle is going to weigh more than someone who has a higher percentage of fat, even if they are roughly the same size.

  13. snackcake says:

    One of the problems here is that the game wants to track your progress to keep you engaged. They are using BMI, because they can, and for kids, this isn’t very standard. If they based it on weight, that wouldn’t work either. Perhaps they should offer up different tracking for children who have not fully matured; like measure frequency and time spent in-game. Brain Age has a calendar, and special messages to encourage you to use the game often.

  14. Ryan Waddell says:

    Maybe they accidentally put in a height of 4’0? That would result in a BMI of 25.6, which is technically overweight. Or maybe the Wii fit board was broken, as mentioned, or maybe it’s just a bug. But man… what a hilarious article. Does anybody really take the Daily Mail seriously though?

  15. Anonymous says:

    The Body Mass Index is an archaic method that many doctors still use as they are too lazy and complacent to move with the times.
    These are usually the same doctors who weigh people fully clothed with shoes on.
    The B.M.I. does not take body composition into account, using this ridiculous method makes the majority of rugby players obese.
    The B.M.I. is another misnomer that people can’t forget like low fat diets, when they should be concentrating on low sugar diets.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Quoting the Wii Fit instruction guide:

    “BMI is a measurement typically used to assess fitness in adults. Although Wii Fit is designed to provide BMI results for players under 20 years old, it is important to understand that BMI can vary a lot as young people grow and mature. [I]f you have more questions about your BMI, ask your doctor.”

    This is posted under a large, bold statement reading “For Players Under 20 Years of Age”.

    Now can we please remove this tripe?

  17. TeenageMutantNinjaLincoln says:

    “Sorry but the BMI isn’t only terrible as a rule of thumb it is utterly without any worth as a measurement whatsoever.”

    Wow, you must be a fatty, eh?

  18. kadparm says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t just use the scale that’s already been defined by a certain Scottish apparel store.

    Wii, not so Wii, and Freakin Huge!

    Perhaps they’d have to pay for the trademark.

  19. numbingpain says:

    “Measurements like BMI are only worthless if you don’t know what they mean. Sure, ignorance would be a solution, but education is a better one. Children need to know what to make of schoolyard taunts and pro-ana videos on YouTube, they need to learn what’s healthy and what isn’t. Sports teachers and biology teachers can be sources of information, and so can be a book, a web site or a game.

    Or the folks who let you become fat in the first place. Or the friendly guy with the syringes. Or the scary old woman who wants you to cough while she grabs your balls. But …

    should a program marketed to kids be calling them overweight? Only doctors and parents should be telling that to a kid.
    … Only them? Why? Besides, Wii Fit is not specifically marketed to kids. And its BMI measurements are calibrated for adults. If you’re a teen or a child, the game still lets you have a look at the numbers in case you’re curious, but they don’t really apply to you. If you’re too stupid to read the instructions, you have no right to bitch about the feature.”

    Thank you. Someone with a brain.

  20. jonathan29 says:

    I’ve never understood why people criticize BMI as completely worthless. I mean, I understand that there are some potential problems, like those illustrated by #6. Still, the application of a little common sense suggests that we are more likely seeing an obesity epidemic than a weightlifting epidemic, no?

    The girl in the article, BTW, has a BMI of 18.2
    Healthy weight, 69th percentile. So maybe Wii Fit has a bug, or the girl entered the wrong data, or the article is lying. But the fault doesn’t lie with BMI in this case.
    http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/usefultools/l/bl_bmi_calc.htm

  21. mdhatter says:

    On the other hand, should a program marketed to kids be calling them overweight?

    No.

    It should be marketed to their parents.

    can we also make one to keep them off our lawns?

  22. Mike says:

    The BMI formula also falls apart outside of the typical range for adult height. At 6’7″ I’m just a little outside that range. The upper limit for “healthy weight” for my height is 222 lbs. I worked myself down to that weight and I looked sickly – absolutely emaciated. I have a much larger body frame than most people my height (i.e., not “lanky”) – and BMI just doesn’t factor that in. BMI also was not designed to consider children. Period.

    Of course BMI will be “linked” to disease, because it has a proportional relationship to weight and people that are extremely overweight have a higher incidence of many diseases. The question is how meaningful this link is – whether there is a tight relationship between the actual number of the BMI and the incidence of disease. The studies I’ve seen typically put people in broad groups (e.g. “BMI less than 25-30,30-35,>35″). Clearly the people that are extremely overweight will have a BMI >35 and will skew the results – but also in that group may be quite a few others that are not obviously obese. The risk factors of the extremely overweight probably won’t apply to this second unusual population.

    All the same, I can’t say BMI is totally without merit. If a rule of thumb applies to a majority of the population then it has some use. I don’t think it belongs as a guidepost in the game, though, since it doesn’t come with the host of disclaimers that a health professional could provide.

    But as a game designer, what are you to do? The point of making this a game is to make it fun, and part of that means having goals to accomplish. So what do you set as your goals? Do you have it simply be weight? If so, what’s the target? Do you make it your resting pulse rate? That’s not a particularly strong measure either. Do you include a set of calipers and have them take skin measurements? I’m sure these kind of ideas were considered, but the fact remains that one’s health is so deeply personal that there’s not an elegant solution.

  23. LudwigThe2nd says:

    Is Wii fit marketed towards ten-year-olds, though? Every ad I’ve seen features some 20-something using it, not a child. I think that at least part of the problem here is the belief that video games are necessarily marketed towards kids.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Seems the makers would have an easy fix since it should already know your age. It compares your ‘wii fit’ age to your actual age base on the birthdate requested when setting it up. It shouldn’t be too hard for the programmers to alter the output based on age. They could even simply graph a child’s height/weight against growth charts, just for giggles.

  25. Agent 86 says:

    No one has pointed out that being “overweight” *(BMI 25-30), but not “obese” *(BMI 30+) is actually the ideal if you want to live longer. (link)

  26. demidan says:

    Really what is wrong with using the word “overweight”? Could be worse. I am all for being nice but please if “overweight” has become taboo for the chubby set might as well IV in the soda and give up.
    I do agree that BMI is stupid, (me, I am 6’4″ 240# with a BMI of 22ish and can not “pinch an inch”), but there has to come a time when you can no longer pull punches no matter how much you love your child if he/she is getting a bit round send them out to play with a nudge. If your child is overweight not telling them does not make them thinner, you don’t have to call them fatty fatty fat fat, but a “I think you are getting a little overweight” couldn’t hurt if you are smart/loving enough to be supportive.

  27. Anonymous says:

    If you enter the girls height and weight into a BMI calculator then she is rated under weight. It seems there is a mistake more then likely by the parents to gain attention to themselves. Or just a video game hater.

  28. nex says:

    Measurements like BMI are only worthless if you don’t know what they mean. Sure, ignorance would be a solution, but education is a better one. Children need to know what to make of schoolyard taunts and pro-ana videos on YouTube, they need to learn what’s healthy and what isn’t. Sports teachers and biology teachers can be sources of information, and so can be a book, a web site or a game.

    Or the folks who let you become fat in the first place. Or the friendly guy with the syringes. Or the scary old woman who wants you to cough while she grabs your balls. But …

    should a program marketed to kids be calling them overweight? Only doctors and parents should be telling that to a kid.

    Only them? Why? Besides, Wii Fit is not specifically marketed to kids. And its BMI measurements are calibrated for adults. If you’re a teen or a child, the game still lets you have a look at the numbers in case you’re curious, but they don’t really apply to you. If you’re too stupid to read the instructions, you have no right to bitch about the feature.

  29. JamieLeigh says:

    My 10-year-old niece is also a victim of the Wii Fit’s dubbing of “overweight”. She is big for her age, at a height of 5’1″ and weight of 106 lbs, but she is in no way fat.

    Our Wii Fit calculated her BMI to be 120, which is in the normal range of 18.5 – 24.9 according to BMI standards. However, when it presented her with her BMI it proceeded to label her as “overweight”. What I would like to know is why does Wii Fit say that a 5’1″, 106 lb child is overweight when a 5’6″, 106 lb adult would be on the low side of a normal BMI range?

    I think the creators of Wii Fit could have saved a good portion of little girls from developing a weight complex at a young age by asking one more question during the Wii Fit Test:

    Are you a child, teenager, or adult?

    The body make-up of these three age ranges is extremely different, so why should a fitness calculator hold them all to the same standards? A different test could be implemented for each age range, thus making the titles such as “overweight” more accurate.

  30. Darcy Casselman says:

    There’s some stuff I don’t like about what I’ve seen of Wii Fit, and this is one of them. (The fact that the “Wii Fit Age” is uselessly arbitrary is another).

    I’m getting it anyway.

    I’d much prefer if it if you gave it a goal and it tracked your progress without making arbitrary judgements. Moving from Obese to Overweight and then Overweight to Ideal isn’t nearly incremental enough to help your daily motivation anyway.

  31. passionchamp says:

    Since BMI is often not a good measure of health, Nintendo should have said “According to the BMI scale, you are in the (underweight, normal, overweight, or obese) range. If you have questions about your weight, it is best to speak with your doctor… because YOU A FATTY!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

 

More BB

Boing Boing Video

Flickr Pool

Digg

Wikipedia

Advertise

Displays ads via FM Tech

RSS and Email

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution. Boing Boing is a trademark of Happy Mutants LLC in the United States and other countries.

FM Tech