Lose Weight Through Virtual Reality: Here's How It May Work

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Feb 24, 2016 06:00 AM EST

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that at least a third of the United States' adult population, or 78.6 million people, are obese. A series of papers published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking looks into how the development of virtual reality can be used in the fight against obesity.

The papers examined how the new technology could be used to understand how people see their bodies, change their personal perception of their bodies and even alter how they see exercise.

"Many chronic conditions are associated with a dysfunction of the stress system: obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes; hypertension; anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and pain syndromes. I am appreciative to the researchers and clinicians worldwide who are exploring innovative ways to utilize technology to provide more effective assessment and treatment methods to a greater number of individuals," Dr. Widerhold said in a press release.

A study conducted by Dr. Federica Pallavicini and her colleagues stated that obesity is the result of several physiological, psychological and emotional factors. One factor that affects the severity of obesity involves binge eating.

As part of the study, the subjects were exposed to real food and food presented using augmented reality technology or AR. The researchers wanted to see if AR food would elicit the same response in the subjects as when they are exposed to real food

The results indicate that foods presented using augmented reality were perceived to be as palatable as real food. The researchers believe this shows that AR technology can be used in future studies and treatments which involve altering food cues.

Another study included in the journal was conducted by a group of researchers led by Dr. Rosa M. Banos. This study investigates whether virtual reality can be used to distract overweight kids from listening to what their body is saying while exercising.

In this experiment, a total of 109 kids, with 33 subjects being overweight, were asked to run on a treadmill. The kids were placed under one of two possible situations: in the traditional condition, the minors were instructed to focus on what their body was saying while in the distraction condition, the subjects were instructed to focus on the virtual stimuli.

The results indicate that the use of virtual reality allows kids to exercise more and actually enjoyed exercising while being in a virtual environment.

A number of companies have already seen the potential of using VR and AR technology in keeping people fit. Treadmills such as the Cyberith Virtualizer, the Reality Suspender and the VirZoom are a few exercising machines which utilize this technology.

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