Going Online to Fight Obesity

A recently launched study will examine the effects of obesity and explore methods for teaching participants about prevention.

A recently launched study will examine the effects of obesity—a key risk factor for a variety of cardiovascular diseases—and explore methods for teaching participants about prevention, treatment, and the importance of proper diet and exercise.

The catch is that the study will be conducted entirely online in the virtual world of Second Life.

Researchers at University of Houston Texas Obesity Research Center (TORC) have received grants from the Network Culture Project of the University of Southern California-Annenberg School for Communication and other sources to recruit up to 500 participants to take part in the virtual study and guide their avatars through a variety of activities and tasks designed to educate and inform, while also giving them the chance to earn “Lindens,” the currency of Second Life.

Dubbed the “International Health Challenge,” the study will promote virtual healthy behaviors and activities, including walking on treadmills, riding bikes, and trying new fruits and vegetables, and was designed to “increase awareness, knowledge, skills and support for healthy living,” according TORC Director Dr. Rebecca Lee.

Why use Second Life? The Network Culture Project website explained that “Second Life (SL) is global, an ideal setting to reach international audiences who are Real Life (RL) residents of industrialized communities at high risk of obesity. SL provides a unique opportunity to increase knowledge, social support, and behavioral skills necessary to reduce or prevent obesity with much broader reach than traditional face-to-face intervention strategies.”

Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Second Life and other virtual environments in promoting social interaction and communication, especially among younger consumers who accustomed to and familiar with this medium. Will it prove to be equally effective in increasing peoples’ understanding of health issues and encouraging them to change their real-life habits and lifestyle?

Would you encourage patients to participate in virtual studies and simulations in hopes of promoting better health choices?

Additional Resources

Texas Obesity Research Center

University of Houston News Release Announcing the Study

The Network Culture Project