Virtual views for obesity research
UH professors are using virtual reality to research food cravings and addictions in females.
Tracey Ledoux, associate professor of health and human performance, and Professor Patrick Bordnick, director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work, will be using a virtual reality lab to spark food cravings among participants in order to study their food addictions.
“Food cravings are intense urges to consume specific foods regardless of physical hunger. They have been shown to be related to eating in the absence of hunger, weight, and unsuccessful weight loss attempts. Food cravings are typically for energy dense palatable food items,” Ledoux said. “Obesity has become a global public health crisis and most efforts have not been sustainable. Finding causes, such as food cravings, for overeating is vital to addressing this problem more effectively.”
The virtual reality lab will require the female participants to wear a helmet which contains the scenery of a typical restaurant setting, including the different aromas of food, sounds of silverware and plates, and various sights. The participants will be able to encounter waiters, tables with guests, a bar and a buffet by use of a joystick, according to Ledoux.
“Men and women tend to differ in how they experience food cravings, their frequency and the foods they crave. For this reason, we wanted to restrict our sample to one gender,” Ledoux said. “The virtual reality tool can be used to improve our understanding of the aspects of the real world environment that trigger food cravings. It also has the potential to be used as a treatment tool for reducing the frequency of food cravings and increasing resistance to acting on them.”
Ledoux decided to conduct this study to help those who suffer from obesity and other health problems having to do with being overweight.
“Obesity and unhealthy diet increase risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” said Ledoux. “Food cravings may promote overeating and weight gain, but more evidence is needed to say this definitively. If this is the case then we want to know more about food cravings and how they affect diet and weight.”
Bordnick has used virtual realities in the past to investigate phobias and other addictive behaviors. He has the lab resources for this study to take place. The software for this experiment was acquired from an Italian researcher named Giuseppe Riva, Ledoux said.