Virtual reality may encourage women to lose weight

Washington, July 2 (IANS) Watching an “avatar”, or a computer-generated image, that performs weight-loss actions in a virtual community might help women shed weight in the real world, says a new US study.

“This pilot study showed that you don’t have to be a gamer to use virtual reality to learn some important skills for weight loss,” Xinhua quoted Melissa Napolitano, associate professor at the George Washington University, as saying.

She said the findings, published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, suggest that “virtual reality could be a promising new tool for building healthier habits”.

Previous research had shown that using virtual reality to reinforce behaviour could be effective, so the university experts wanted to establish whether it could be used to help people lose weight.

To find out, the team first conducted a survey among 128 overweight women.

Most of the women had tried to lose weight during the last year and the majority had never used a virtual reality game.

Despite the fact that most of these women had no experience with the concept, the researchers found that 88 percent said they were willing to try it.

Eight of the 128 women were then chosen for the study and allowed to pick “avatars” that they thought resembled their own skin colour and shape.

The participants came to the university researchers’ clinic once a week and watched a 15-minute video featuring an “avatar” demonstrating healthy weight loss behaviour.

In one lesson, the women watched the “avatar” sitting down for dinner and learned about portion sizes.

In another lesson, they watched an “avatar” walk with moderate intensity on a treadmill and learned the walking pace needed to help with weight loss goals.

After four weeks of treatment, the women in the pilot study had lost an average of 1.6 kg, a fairly typical amount for traditional diet plans, Napolitano said.

“This is just the first step to show that women, even those who are not gamers, are interested in an avatar-based technology to help them with a weight-loss plan,” Napolitano said.

“We are excited by the potential of this technology as a scalable tool to help people learn the skills to be successful at weight loss over the long run.”

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