Participants in two weight-loss programs -- one involving traditional health club sessions and the other delivered online in a 3D virtual world -- lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, but the online contingent reported significantly greater gains in behaviors that could help them live healthier and leaner lives.
"It's counter-intuitive, the idea of being more active in a virtual world, but the activities that they do in a virtual world can carry over into the real world," said Jeanne Johnston, assistant professor of kinesiology at Indiana University. "Through visualization and education, they can try activities that they had not tried before."
More and more people have been turning to online weight-loss programs, but Johnston said the programs often lack important elements of human interaction. The IU researchers wanted to travel even farther into cyber space by evaluating a weight-loss program offered in a virtual-reality environment, where visitors use avatars to interact with others or the computer-simulated environment -- in this case, a simulated fitness club.
"The virtual world program was at least as beneficial as the face-to-face program and in some ways, more effective," Johnston said. "It has the potential to reach people who normally wouldn't go to a gym or join a program because of limitations, such as time or discomfort with a fitness center environment."
The findings in the study "Comparison of a Face-to-Face versus Virtual World Weight Loss Program" will be discussed on Friday at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Denver. They will be presented during a poster presentation in Hall B from 8-9:30 a.m. MDT.
For 12 weeks, members of the each weight-loss program spent at least four hours a week attending meetings at a virtual or real club. In both they learned about nutrition, physical activity, changing habits and how to benefit from social supports. The study involved ov
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