An avatar depicting weight-loss behaviour in virtual gaming could help women shed off a few extra pounds, a new study shows.
Melissa Napolitano, PhD, an associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), said that the pilot study showed that people don't have to be a gamer to use virtual reality to learn some important skills for weight loss.
She said that the study suggests that virtual reality could be a promising new tool for building healthier habits.
Napolitano, who did the study in collaboration with Temple's Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, and her colleagues, first conducted a survey among 128 overweight women. Most of them 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 using virtual reality or even playing online games, the researchers found that 88 percent said they would be willing to use a program with an avatar modelling habits that might give them an edge in the battle to lose weight.
Many of the study participants thought that watching an avatar could help them visualize and then put in place healthy behavior, such as taking a walk every day or picking healthy options when food shopping.
Using their extensive expertise in virtual reality, Director Antonio Giordano, MD, PhD, and Giuseppe Russo, PhD, of Temple's Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, developed a virtual reality simulation featuring such an avatar.
Given that not all the woman who participated were avid tech users, the team created a DVD that showed the avatar in four real-world environments. The women did not have to manipulate the avatar, they just watched the video; however they did pick out the skin colour and shape of the avatar to more closely resemble their own appearance-a feature that might help the study participants visualize and learn a new behaviour, Napolitano said.
In the next part of the trial, the team enrolled eight overweight women in a four-week pilot test to see if watching the videos could help these women learn new skills that could lead to weight loss. The women came to the clinic once a week and watched a 15-minute DVD featuring an avatar demonstrating healthy weight loss behaviours.
After four weeks of treatment, the women in this pilot study had lost an average of 3.5 pounds, a fairly typical amount for traditional diet plans, Napolitano said.
However, the researchers hope that by watching the avatar the women using this program will be much more likely to put healthy habits in place over the long run-keep the weight off for good.