LARGO — The average American child spends seven hours per day using "entertainment media," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That's televisions, computers, phones, etc.
This is not good, says the academy, which cites studies showing excessive media use can "lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity."
When the city's new Highland Recreation Complex opens next summer, the $17 million facility will include an array of traditional exercise offerings: an indoor track, athletic fields, tennis courts and a fitness room among them. It will also have one room dedicated to "active gaming" — video games that require exercise and are designed to make some of that entertainment media time healthy.
The electronic exercise/game room isn't cheap. The roughly 850-square-foot room will cost nearly $90,000 to outfit, according to city estimates.
But once completed, the new recreation complex will be the only public facility of its kind in the Tampa Bay area with such an array of active gaming offerings, according to Lisa Witherspoon, director of the University of South Florida's Active Gaming Research Laboratories.
Witherspoon agrees with the standard complaint about active gaming, voiced by City Commissioner Curtis Holmes during a Dec. 4 commission meeting.
"When I was a kid, exercise was rolling in dirt, dodgeball," Holmes said before voting, along with the rest of the commission, to approve the expenditure. The money, like the rest of the funding for the complex, will come from Penny for Pinellas, a countywide sales tax used only for capital projects.
"I wish kids would go outside and play more, but they're not," Witherspoon said. "We're trying to find a way to leverage technology and make some of that screen time more healthy, less sedentary."
Witherspoon is an unpaid member of the advisory board for the Active Gaming Co., which is designing and outfitting Largo's electronic exercise room. Among the gadgets in the room:
• A Lightspace Floor and Lightspace Wall, tiled contraptions that use games that rely on players stepping on or touching different lighted tiles in patterns.
• Xbox 360 with Kinect, a video game system with sensors that make "you the controller," as the advertisements say. Participants stand in front of the Kinect and move around to play sports games or dance. The games will be displayed on a 60-inch television.
• Konami Classroom Edition set of 24 mats. The mats are like individual Lightspace Floors and are used to play the popular "Dance Dance Revolution" video game, among others.
The active gaming room will have a capacity of 25 people, according to Joan Byrne, director of the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department. The room will tentatively be open from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays; noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays; and 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
It will cost $5 per day to use the room. Getting into the Highland Recreation Complex requires a Largo recreation membership card, which costs $10 per year for city residents and $59 per year for nonresidents.
The new Highland Recreation Complex is scheduled to open in June.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.