Monday, August 18, 2008

Dieting is now going virtual

In this new study, University of Houston researchers are recruiting an international pool of 500 participants in a healthy eating and physical activity challenge. The catch is that it is taking place in the virtual reality game Second Life.

The premise, err competition is that participants (avatars) will receive lindens (the currency of Second Life) for behaviors like trying new fruits and vegetables, physical activities such as walking on a treadmill, riding a bike, etc. Participants receive "challenge" points for each healthy behavior. Then whichever country team has the most challenge points wins the International Health Challenge.

Apparently, there is also going to be a space in Second Life for interactive games and learning opportunities for those who sign up for this health challenge.

The hope of this study is that it will allow participants to practice and learn new behaviors in this virtual reality setting and in real life.


Hmm, it's an interesting proposition. I have never actually been in Second Life, though it's often discussed in one of my podcasts. I think you have to be careful with virtual reality environments, not only with the suspicion of pedophiles, but in the time consumption there. I know quite a few grown adults who are very into the computer games where everyone makes their own avatars and such. One of them even tried getting me into it. I thought it was interesting for awhile but soon realized just how much time I was spending there--time that could be spent elsewhere. That, and my satellite wasn't fast enough to keep up with what was going on.

I guess my concern would be "internet addiction." That and whether a program like the study above really helps in real life. Though internet addiction is still subject for debate, I do think people can spend unhealthy amounts of time on the internet. Then when you couple it with competition, it can really rev people up. I'm still uncertain about how these challenge points work. I mean couldn't you just keep grabbing different fruits and vegetables for the mere addition of points? Or step on the treadmill continuously to rack up points? I guess maybe I'm not seeing how this can translate into real life other than possibly the accountability factor.

Don't get me wrong, I do think there are some computer-based interventions and programs out there that do help people with various disorders, I am just not sure about virtual reality. Bu then again, may be the idea of the "social" component could be helpful? Who knows, maybe this will provide an interesting outcome.

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