Researchers have made use of an innovative approach to study food addictions in hopes of finding ways to assess and treat the condition.
"There is a growing body of research that shows that consumption of palatable food stimulates the same reward and motivation centers of the brain that recognized addictive drugs do," Tracey Ledoux said.
"These cravings are related to overeating, unsuccessful weight loss and obesity."
Ledoux and Professor Patrick Bordnick, director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work's Virtual Reality Lab, will use virtual environments to try to induce food cravings.
In this new investigation, participants will wear a virtual reality helmet to enter a "real -world" restaurant, complete with all the sights, sounds and smells. A joystick will allow them to walk to a buffet, encounter waitstaff and other patrons.
"Virtual reality will allow us to identify food and food-related stimuli of the built, home, school and social environment that cue food cravings, which has public policy, public health and clinical treatment implications," Ledoux said.