Why all the fuss over cardiac endorsement of Nintendo Wii video games?


by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

The first time I played Wii video/fitness games over at my daughter’s house was memorable.  We laughed nonstop while we were boxing, river rafting, hula-hooping and ski-jumping in her living room, and were both huffing, puffing and sweating after an hour with the Wii console. Have you tried it yet?

Next morning, my shoulders and arms (my main boxing muscles, I would guess) were so sore I could barely lift my coffee cup.  This was a sure sign that I’d been getting a great workout, while having heaps of fun.

The American Heart Association thinks it’s a great cardiac workout, too.  In fact, the AHA has entered into a “strategic relationship” with Nintendo to endorse its Wii video game system, saying that active-play video games like Wii can be part of a healthy lifestyle.  The Wii gaming console, the Wii Fit Plus, and the Wii Sports Resort will all carry the AHA’s seal of approval.

So what could be wrong with this new AHA endorsement on such a swell product? It was the TV show Good Morning America that first raised the alarm over the partnership. 

But first, here’s how Wii works: the ‘active play’ games use a motion-sensitive controller that requires people to move in order to play the games. With the Wii, you are up on your feet, moving your arms and legs, (depending on the game being played) while you improve balance and core strength. It’s range-of-motion physical exercise disguised as pure fun.  

Interviewed on Good Morning America, Dr. Richard Besser criticized the American Heart Association for what he called this “unprecedented move” towards “the intersection of medicine with money”.

He brought up some excellent points. He said that video games have been linked to growing obesity rates, and that this cozy partnership designed to help make money for Nintendo sends a “mixed message” to consumers.

He also said that participating in a real live sport is far healthier for our hearts than playing the same sport on the Wii. 

Probably true, but here’s a news flash for Dr. Besser: there is no hope in hell that I’m ever going to find myself in a real boxing ring (because I really don’t want to get punched in the head) but the likelihood of me working up a good sweat on the Wii boxing game in the comfort of home is very high.

In a response statement following the Good Morning America slam, the AHA explained:

“While we first and foremost advise everybody to meet the recommended levels of physical activity, we also recognize the importance of getting those who are totally inactive to start by doing something.”

 The response from the AHA also said that their logo and symbols were not for sale.

But apparently they are.  Nintendo “contributed” $1.5 million to the AHA in exchange for the green light to put their seal of approval on their games.

Nintendo is not the only generous corporation to send cash to the American Heart Association in this questionable “intersection of medicine with money”, as Dr. Besser calls it. 

Consider, for example, that the AHA recently issued a public statement claiming that research data warning of increased heart problems for those taking the GlaxoSmithKline diabetes drug Avandia are “inconclusive”.  GSK has given the AHA over $3.6 million in donations.  See also: If Only Avandia Were More Like Toyota on my sister site, The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For The Easily Swayed.

And in 2008, the AHA issued a statement saying it did not believe the cholesterol drug Vytorin was “unsafe” after a study of the cholesterol drug found it did not reduce coronary artery plaque. Only later did it highlight the fact that drug companies Schering-Plough and Merck , who market Vytorin, were also major donors to the AHA.  See also:  on The Ethical Nag.

Here are more resources on this story:

AHA news release

“Good Morning America” video segment (starts with a drug ad, speaking of corporate sponsorship)

 AHA/Nintendo program

 Q:  Is this kind of product endorsement a slippery slope?


7 thoughts on “Why all the fuss over cardiac endorsement of Nintendo Wii video games?

  1. I have a 15 yr old grandson. I bought him Wii last year for Winter Solstice. He didn’t like it as much as XboX 360, his reason “I have to get up” to play it, “I can’t sit and relax”. I told him, you’re 15, not 50, you don’t have to relax for 4 hrs. after sitting in a classroom all day. You should be outside, or playing sports, if not, than Wii is the next best thing.

    I was very happy when I read Xbox and PS3 are going to be interactive very soon, no more sitting on the couch to play games, that is going to become a thing of the past “very soon” [thank God] Then hopefully we will see our kids, AND Men slim down a bit, and get WELL NEEDED exercise!!!
    Now, if we could just stop the violence, we’d be all set!!


  2. Hmm… I never would have thought of the AHA’s endorsement of something that, as Sheryl wrote, gets “people up off the couch and moving” as being a bad thing, but I guess a point can indeed be made here.

    That said, does the AHA not put their stamp of approval on other consumables – food products, for example? “The intersection of medicine with money” is hardly unprecedented for the AHA. With the sad state of health care & funding in the United States, medicine and money are certain to remain inextricably linked.

    Oh, and yes, the Wii is a video game console, but you can’t paint the Wii Fit games with the same brush as some of the Wii’s less active games or other video games in general (I’m thinking Dungeons and Dragons, Grand Theft Auto…), which can be linked to growing obesity rates.

    Next will people be saying that making those cute little Wii avatars do the hula is inculcating violence in our children?!? Please.


    1. You are right, Paula – the AHA’s “Heart Check Mark” is for sale. It’s on some nutritionally questionable food products whose manufacturers have paid the AHA for using the symbol. Q: why is Uncle Ben’s Instant Rice on this list? No brown rice on the list at all!)

      And the AHA has accepted millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies for years, and then – quelle surprise! – has issued flattering statements about those companies’ drugs. (Examples noted above in edited text).

      Thanks for your comments. Let’s start a Save The Avatar campaign!?!


  3. Anything – whether it be outdoor exercise or indoor exercise – that will get people up off the couch and moving gets my endorsement. As long as it is real and not a sham.
    I wouldn’t endorse video games as a whole, but the Wii Fit make good sense to me as an adjunct to regular exercise, or even as a way to do some easy and fun workouts.


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  6. I have no problem with the AHA endorsing a product that will get us up on our feet and exercise and help prevent heart issues. I also have no problem with them recieving financial gain if it is used to help those who really need it. I am where I am today with heart disease, a heart attack, and 6 stents because I had no insurance to get the medical help I needed. I am now $80,000 in debt because it was either go to the ER or die at home. The AHA will not help you with any of this. That’s the problem I have with them taking payment. Oh, I’m sure they will say it is going for research.


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