Virtual Reality, a Solution For America's Obesity Problem?
Could an attractive avatar convince you to moderate your eating style?
Let's be honest, our views on how much food we should consume are completely out of control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35.7 percent of U.S. adults are considered to be obese. While the trend shows that we continue to gain weight overall, there is good news coming out of the University of Missouri. Forget Weight Watchers and pills and create an athletic avatar instead.
According to Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor of communication in MU’s College of Arts and Science, an "alter-ego can then have a positive influence on a person’s life" and "people seeking to lose weight could create fitter avatars to help visualize themselves as slimmer and healthier."
Behm-Morawitz said that she surveyed 279 users of Second Life and found that "self-presence, or the degree to which users experienced their avatars as an extension of themselves, [will] predict the influence of the avatar on people’s physical reality." A "strong self-presence" in a virtual community "promoted health and well-being of the participants themselves" and people generally felt that an attractive avatar online made them feel better offline as well. Needless to say, that self-presence also contributed to "greater satisfaction with online relationships".
The researcher believes that this circumstance could be used in treatments targeted at helping people to lose weight. The hope is that a a positive virtual image can create the desire to reflect that image in the real world. "This study found no evidence of negative effects of a high degree of self-presence in the virtual world on study participants; however, that doesn’t rule out the possibility," Behm-Morowitz stated. "Users should practice moderation. Virtual entertainment, like other forms of diversion such as books or television, can be used in unhealthy ways."