Avatars for weight loss?

Watching an avatar engage in healthy behaviors like walking on a treadmill or learning about portion control could help women lose weight, according to a new study.

Researchers at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education found that virtual reality can be helpful in promoting behaviors that lead to healthier lifestyles.

"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," said Melissa Napolitano, PhD, an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS).

Women watched avatars take healthy steps

For the study, 128 overweight women were surveyed – most of whom had tried unsuccessfully to lose weight. The research team created videos of avatars that the women helped design, which reflected their hair and skin color to closely resemble their actual bodies.

The women didn't have to manually manipulate the avatars; they simply watched videos of the avatars engaging in healthy behaviors like sitting down to a healthy dinner or walking on a treadmill at a pace that would help promote weight loss.

The women in the study also set their own weight-loss and exercise goals, in addition to keeping a food journal.

Researchers hoped that the virtual model would help women learn the basic steps that are needed to break down healthy behaviors into manageable tasks.

Long-term avatar therapy could improve healthy habits

After a month of avatar "treatment," the women had lost an average of 3.5 pounds – not a huge number, but one that reflects a typical amount for the average diet plan, said Napolitano. Using avatar therapy on a long-term basis could help solidify healthy habits, enabling individuals to keep the weight off for good, she concluded.

"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," Napolitano said. "This small study suggests that virtual reality could be a promising new tool for building healthier habits."

The research is published in the July 1 issue of Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.

Source: Science Daily

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