Virtual Reality, a Solution For America's Obesity Problem?

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."

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  • weierstrass
    How about a weight tax?
  • killerclick
    How about you let fatties be fat? Sure, they cost more in healthcare but they die sooner, they create revenue for businesses that sell food and they make the rest of us look better in comparison.
  • Chairman Ray
    While I agree that a high-degree of self presence in virtual worlds may lead to motivation for weight loss, attaining this high-degree of self presence requires one to invest a significant portion of time on these online activities, which is one of the leading causes of obesity in the first place.

    The most obvious discredit towards this research is that in every game, the characters you play as or design are already meant to be attractive and it has never, ever curbed obesity. These characters serve to get the player to play more, rather than less. If attractive characters encouraged people to get off the computer and go outside, developers would be making ugly characters instead.
  • killerclick
    Also, lack of activity isn't the main cause of obesity. It's overeating, it's the food. The way fatties eat, they'd have to swim 6 hours a day like Michael Phelps to create a calorie deficit. And that would just make them more hungry, so it's a vicious cycle.
  • A Bad Day
    killerclickHow about you let fatties be fat? Sure, they cost more in healthcare but they die sooner, they create revenue for businesses that sell food and they make the rest of us look better in comparison.
    Because sick people makes unproductive people, and unproductive people makes an unhealthy society.

    See the Roman Empire as an example.

    (Hint: It had no middle class. Much of the working people weren't working because slaves had occupied most of the jobs, and had to be fed and entertained so they wouldn't riot. It wasn't a problem until there were no more places worth plundering, then you had expenses exceeding revenue.)
  • chumly
  • joytech22
    What they SHOULD do is create a VR headset and body suit and create a game similar to GMOD (Or use GMOD). Then through this suit the user should be able to play around with spawned objects like bouncy balls and play sports through the game.

    They not only would have fun in this virtual world, but they could also do some real working out (As in, they could run around) and they'd be able to have fun while doing it.

    Although.. I'm not sure how it would be more fun than doing the real thing unless they are playing over the net or something.
  • Shin-san
    People still play Second Life?
  • killerclick
    A Bad DayBecause sick people makes unproductive people
    Fatties are not unproductive, maybe they're less productive than they would be if they were slimmer, but that's their business. People have no obligation to fulfill their potential. If you want to make fat people lose weight so they would be more productive, what would you do about lazy or unambitious people?

    Besides, how productive is someone who spends 8 hours a day being miserable thinking about food they can't eat?
  • southernshark
    Taxing unproductive people might be a good idea, however since the Democrats are the ones who usually go for taxes, we may rest assured that "their people" will never go for that.