A small study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center found that virtual reality beat face-to-face meetings for weight maintenance.
“Although we found weight loss was significantly greater for face-to-face compared to virtual reality, weight maintenance was significantly better for virtual reality,” said Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator.
Nearly 36 percent of Americans are considered obese, according to the researcher, who notes there are many barriers to losing weight. For those attending face-to-face programs, barriers include travel, conflict with work and home, need for childcare, and loss of anonymity.
For this study, researchers compared the results of 20 overweight and obese individuals after three months of a weight loss program at a weekly clinic delivered via face-to-face or through virtual reality and then six months of weight maintenance delivered via virtual reality.
The virtual reality weight maintenance program was conducted using Second Life, a Web-based virtual reality environment available to the public.
Participants in Second Life create virtual representations of themselves, called ”avatars,” that can interact with other avatars and navigate through the virtual world of Second Life.
Voice communication is accomplished via headset, which allows for person-to-person and group interaction. Education and training takes place on an ”island,” which is purchased from Second Life and provides restricted group access to a nutrition education area.
“Individuals who want to participate in real-life scenarios without real-life repercussions can use virtual reality,” Sullivan said.
“For example, participants can practice meal planning, grocery shopping, and dietary control when eating at restaurants and holiday parties to a much greater extent with Second Life compared with the time-limited clinic meeting.
“Virtual reality may even be able to serve as a more feasible option to monitor individuals after completing a weight loss program.”
The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.