In A New Study, Video Games Helped People Lose Weight

Patients who learned weight maintenance techniques through the game "Second Life" were more likely to keep the weight off.

June 1969

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Videogames and weight loss are an odd pairing, but in a study, researchers found the game "Second Life" might have some applications for weight loss--or at least weight "maintenance."

A team from The University of Kansas Medical Center took 20 overweight or obese people and put them through a three-month weight loss program, in which they either visited a weight-loss clinic or virtually met with nutritionists via headsets in "Second Life." After three months, both groups of patients got another six months of weight maintenance training--coaching on how to keep the pounds off--through the game.

The people who took the weight loss training through "Second Life" ended up losing a comparable amount of weight to people in the more traditional, clinic-based program. But when comparing the virtual weight-maintenance program to data from other studies on face-to-face maintenance programs, the researchers found that the virtual program was actually more effective in this study.

The researchers hypothesize that "Second Life," or other game- or VR-based systems, could be used as an alternative for people who face barriers (like a long distance from a clinic) to getting weight-loss training. Although "Second Life" and other systems have been used to study conditions like weight loss and addiction, this sounds like it's more of a heightened version of telemedicine: talking with your doctor on the phone or over the Web, but with an actual (virtual) person incorporated.

Eventually a system like this could be used to help people practice healthy habits, like picking up the best food at a grocery store, before they do it in the real world, even if it's a little ironic that weight maintenance could be helped through staring at a screen.