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Avatars Can Promote Weight Loss, Study Finds

Update Date: Jul 01, 2013 03:46 PM EDT

For some people who want to lose weight, watching others and studying how they achieve their weight loss goals can be a great learning experience. Often times, self-motivation is not enough when it comes to exercising and dieting. Based from these facts, researchers wanted to study the effects of avatars, which are computerized models, on weight loss. They discovered that women who watched avatars of themselves exercise on a screen were able to lose weight.

The lead researcher of the study, Melissa Napolitano, an associate professor of prevention and community health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C, and colleagues recruited 128 overweight females. Before the experiment, the researchers recorded that over 88 percent of their sample set stated that they believed an avatar could help them lose weight. None of the women ever used a virtual reality game as a weight loss tactic. The participants were given a DVD about exercise and dieting. On the DVD was a digital alter ego of each participant, who exercised on a treadmill and ate healthy foods and portion sizes. The alter ego's shape, color and size could be adjustable by each participant to better resemble themselves.

"When an avatar looks like you, it increases self-efficacy, which is somebody's confidence that they themselves have the ability to do that act," Napolitano said, according to USA Today. "You can visualize yourself doing something and realize 'Wow, it's really not that hard.'" The researchers found that the participants lost an average of 3.5 pounds. They did not find out if the program helped women maintain their weight loss. If this method of weight loss could be improved by promoting more weight loss, it could be an inexpensive way to lose weight.

However, as of right now, this research into the effects of using a virtual reality should be viewed as a pilot "to further investigate how using virtual world technologies can be leverage to achieve real world behavior changes," according to Benjamin Lok, the director of the digital arts and science program at the University of Florida.

The study was published in the Journal of Diabetes, Science and Technology.

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