Technology to lose weight? Seeing an avatar exercise and learning healthy habits in a virtual community could help people lose more weight, suggests a new study published in the magazine Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology .
An avatar is the graphic or physical representation of the user, in video games or online, for example.
"This pilot study showed that you do not have to be a player to use virtual reality in order to learn some of the important skills to lose weight," said Melissa Napolitano, associate professor of community health and prevention at the School of Public Health and Health Services of the University of George Washington.
In a press release from the university, the specialist added that the findings suggest that "virtual reality could be a promising new tool to promote healthier habits."
The new study included eight overweight women who watched a 15-minute DVD that featured an avatar that demonstrated healthy behaviors to lose weight once a week.
In one lesson, the avatar would sit down to dinner and learn about portion sizes. In another, the avatar used a tape and knew the speed of walking necessary to lose weight.
By the end of four weeks, the women had lost an average of 3.5 pounds (1.6 kilos), which Napolitano said was a normal amount quite typical of traditional diet plans.
But it is expected that by seeing the avatar, people who use this type of program would be much more likely to establish long-term healthy habits and lose weight permanently, he said.
"This is just a first step to show that women, even those who do not play video games, are interested in a technology based on avatars to help them in a plan to lose weight," said Napolitano.
"We are excited about the potential of this technology as an expandable tool to help people learn the skills needed to lose weight successfully in the long term."
If later studies show that this type of program is effective, it may offer an inexpensive way for millions of overweight and obese men and women to learn the skills and behavior they need to lose weight and not get it back, Napolitano said.