The Loh Down On Science

Can virtual reality help us to slim down?

Temple University Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine

An avatar demonstrates walking at a moderate pace on a treadmill--a skill that can help with weight control.

Is your imaginary friend losing weight?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:
 
That could be a good thing!  Because an estimated two-thirds of us real people are overweight.

And while experts say personal weight-loss coaching is helpful, it's pricey!  So why not use a virtual coach?  An avatar.  So proposes community-health expert Melissa Napolitano.

In virtual-reality worlds, people respond positively to the behavior of online personas who resemble themselves.

So Napolitano created four fifteen-minute videos.  Each showed a female avatar whose skin color and shape was changeable.  In each video, the avatar modeled good weight-loss habits.  Like:  Exercising.  Buying fruit.  Duct-taping her mouth shut.  Kidding!

Napolitano had female participants in a weight-loss program watch one video per week, for a month.  Each changed her avatar to resemble herself.  Most had never used virtual reality.

Result? Each woman lost almost four pounds.

Napolitano said that’s normal for weight-loss programs.  But if avatars help, they’d be cheaper than traditional programs and could reach more people.
 
People who love eating imaginary food.  Right!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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