Virtual Tech Will Fight the Obesity Epidemic

People are becoming aware of the finding from the Centers for Disease Control: that two-thirds of U.S. citizens qualify as overweight or obese. Weight loss has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and there have been countless programs, such as Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, and Slim-Fast, that have emerged in response to doctors’ advice to eat healthy and exercise. The obesity epidemic is growing.

Avoiding obesity entails understanding the cause and pursuing the solution. There are many supposed causes of the obesity epidemic; quite a few fingers have pointed to technology as a prime culprit.

It’s likely true that tech is a contributor, but recent studies suggest that people looking to fight obesity might turn to the virtual world for help in making it happen.

Technology Definitely Helps Cause Obesity Epidemic

Although tech may be starting to turn the tables on weight gain, it’s necessary to acknowledge its role as a contributing factor. Heavy dependence on electronic gadgets has clearly been a significant factor in America’s recent surge toward becoming overweight.

For a very long time, most of the blame for obesity among U.S. citizens was directed primarily toward the food industry. Documentaries like “Supersize Me” and “Fat Head” revealed to the world that fast-food restaurants and processed-food manufacturers were including so much sugar and fats that it was almost impossible not to gain weight if you dined out.

So food has been a major contributor to the obesity problem. However, it’s not the only factor; a 2014 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that excess weight gain among Americans could also be a direct result of reduced exercise in recent years.

Researchers at Stanford University headed the study, which covered the years from 1994 to 2010, which was roughly the period of the tech boom. During this time, physical inactivity among women grew from 19.1 to 51.7 percent, and in men from 11.4 percent to 43.5.

According to Dr. Azadeh Aalai, a professor of psychology at Montgomery College in Maryland, “We [have] become more wired as a culture, not only are we opening ourselves up to newer methods of advertising and marketing bombardment, but we are also becoming more prone to multitasking, which means eating on the run and doing whatever we can to save time,” she wrote in Psychology Today.

Because adults are opting for physically non-active leisure activities, they’re gaining weight.

obesity epidemic fat shamed. Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay
Obesity epidemic, fat shaming. Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Virtual Reality Will Exact Change

Technology isn’t going anywhere. There’s no way for consumers simply to drop their tech gadgets without seriously handicapping their social and commercial activities.

Since the tech can’t be removed, the solution would have to be to use it for positive change, and that’s what many tech companies are already aiming for. Many apps and websites can be used to fight weight gain. Thousands of tools and resources can help people who wish to lose weight. But the emerging trend of virtual reality could be what tips the scales.

VR Helps People See Change

Tech Times reported that researchers from the University of Barcelona and Italy’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart have run a series of studies on body image and how virtual reality can alter it. The first use is to help people feel the need for change.

VR can serve as a tool to analyze how people see their bodies, and let them see where they may have problems with weight. It can also project some of the health risks that could threaten the participant’s well-being if he or she doesn’t make some changes.

The program is also worthwhile for fighting eating disorders, which certainly lead to serious and unhealthy weight fluctuations. The virtual reality system can help to reprogram the brain so it can understand body image better. It helps people to become acclimated to their healthy bodies.

VR Helps You Eat Less

Research has also suggested that virtual reality can be used to “hack” our senses and rewire our brain so we grow less invested in food. It can reduce your appetite, trick the brain into believing low-fat foods taste better, and improve our mind’s ability to control portions.

One professor of technology at the University of Tokyo has developed a system called Augmented Safety. It uses graphics to make food portions look bigger and tastier than they are.

It tricks the mind into thinking it’s eating large portions, which satisfy the stomach more. Based on the studies associated with this tool, wearing the headset can reduce the amount of food a person eats by 10 percent.

VR is the New Wii Sports

From a gaming perspective, virtual reality has a lot of potential to increase activity, much the same way Wii Sports and Xbox Kinect helped people learn to move and exercise and have fun doing it. Those games turned couch-potato sports into an initiative to become healthier, and the same thing can be done with VR.

Thanks partly to technology, we have experienced a collective increase in obesity, but the same industry may be well on the way to solving this problem. Virtual reality is still in its beginning stages, but it could be life-changing for those who are in desperate need of it.

The question is, can the obesity epidemic be slowed or stopped? It appears that VR may help, but it will take a change to the processed food these people are eating, as well.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.