There have been so much negative press about the amount of time people spend online and in virtual environments and the effects on psychological and physiological processes that when a new study comes out espousing the positive qualities of virtual worlds such as Second Life, it has to make news right?
Today, BBC Health is reporting that researchers at Indiana University compared participants in a 12-week weight loss program-one real, one online-and that they lost almost the same around of weight. For the intervention, the researchers recruited overweight and obese people who met four hours a week in either the online or offline environment.
So, how much did the groups lose? The average weight loss was 10 pounds. Healthy for a 12-week program.
“However, when the groups were surveyed on whether their overall behaviour had changed, those using Second Life appeared to have made more changes towards healthy eating and physical activity, suggesting that they might fare better in the future.”
This is a really good step for intervention research in in any world. And I’m sure prevention scientists are also considering this news, especially in light of the finding that those in Second Life experienced overall behavior change.
There has been a move towards tailored health communication and health interventions in the past few years. Beyond the real and the virtual, this article did not report on whether the researchers tailored the interventions to specific needs of different groups. That might have been one of the study’s limitations.
Another limitation is that many of these studies and interventions can–for now–only be done in certain countries. Many of the world’s overweight and obese people are in the developing world. What impact, if any, would a study such as this have on them? Can something similar be done in our region? Do we have enough people visiting online worlds to really put money towards an intervention such as this? What other ways can this be done? Though online community boards where islanders congregate? Would you use Second Life or another virtual environment to help you lose weight?