Can watching a virtual-reality avatar help someone lose weight? Scientists from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, in Washington, DC, think so.

In a two-part study, researchers first asked 128 women if they thought it would be valuable to use avatars to model weight loss behaviors. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they “would participate in a program that used an avatar to help practice weight loss skills in a virtual environment.”

In the second study component, researchers recruited eight women to participate in a virtual program–involving avatars–for 4 weeks. By the end of the intervention, the women had lost an average of 3.7 pounds. Subjects said they would recommend the program because it had helped them improve their fitness and nutrition behaviors.

“This investigation revealed a high level of interest in an avatar-based program, with formative work indicating promise,” the authors stated. “Given the high costs associated with in vivo exposure and practice, this study demonstrates the potential use of avatar-based technology as a tool for modeling weight loss behaviors.”

The study was published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology (2013; 7 [4], 1057-65).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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