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Monday, October 2, 2023


Cutting the fat

We have heard of weight loss pills and rituals. People have turned to the South Beach Diet and the no-carbohydrate diet. Some have even turned to a higher calling to lose those love handles, but now the wait is over. UH Computational Physiology Lab researchers have developed a weight loss game. Yes, a game.

Weight loss games have become a trend among the major players in the video game realm. From Dance Dance Revolution to the Wii Sports Experiment, the games are becoming increasingly popular among gamers looking for alternate ways to trim the fat.

Say goodbye to your Nintendo Wii or PlayStation Portable because the Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT-o games is changing the face of weight loss.

"(The game) is motivating, and I would recommend it," former participant and UH computer science doctorate student Pradeep Buddharaju said. Six months ago, he tipped the scale at 225 pounds. With the help of the NEAT-o game and making healthier eating choices, he dropped dramatically to 182 pounds.

Developed by UH computer science professor Ioannis Pavlidis and research assistants and computer science doctorate students Yuichi Fujiki, Kostas Kazakos and staff engineer Colin Puri, the game has been called simple to use, fun and motivating. Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic physician in Rochester, Minn., came up with the name of the device that hopes to fight off a sedentary lifestyle.

Pavlidis said the game "is just like texting" because it does not lose its social aspects since the person is competing with other people.

Each person has a two-component device – a PDA or smart phone device that has a built-in wireless or Bluetooth connection. The second piece is a wireless strap that senses motion. It can be clipped on to a belt or wrapped around the arm or wrist. Depending on your device, both components can be at a range of 50 to 100 feet.

There are about 30 UH students involved in the on-going research for NEAT-o. For a month, participants are given PDA’s with a Windows Mobile platform and two games: a run/walk race game and Pavlidis’ version of Sudoku. Players get to fill a square by points earned from their physical activity.

Participants can compete with their neighbors or with a friend across the world using avatars – self-created, animated characters that distinguish themselves from others. Students return the PDA and software after the one-month test. Winners receive gift cards from Target or Barnes and Noble. Those who do not do as well get a small prize.

The 30 participants went to the Human Performance Center in the Texas Medical Center to calculate their body mass index, height and weight for study analysis. Researchers are looking for a body mass index between 25 and 30, but that does not exclude other numbers. The participants cannot be extremely obese or lean.

The gaming system showed that participants became more active when competing against another user rather than the machine.

Pavlidis recognizes that there is an obesity problem, and he hopes that NEAT-o can help abate the problem.

"We can change everyday human behavior," he said. "You do not have to sacrifice your daily routine."

When introduced to the idea of using a hand held for weight loss, kinesiology senior Jibin Philip says it’s something he’s willing to explore.

"I think this is an example of technology helping people get in shape and live healthier lifestyles and this is something I would consider to look into."

But biology junior Laura Mansilla feels the price of using this technology would out weigh its benefits.

"I’m not into the video gaming world, plus I believe if the (NEAT-o game) were to sell on the market it would have a big price tag on it. It’s not something I would consider buying unless it were for free," she said.

With the research that is expected to take sometime, NEAT-o is not available for purchase. Pavlidis is working on more gaming selections and hopes that within a year NEAT-o can be sold in commercial markets.

The funding for this project came from former Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer , an endowed fund and a National Science Foundation grant.

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