Virtual reality to investigate food addictions

Houston: Soon virtual reality will enable us to identify human food cravings and a way to control them for better health benefits, a new research has revealed.

Tracey Ledoux, Assistant professor of health and human performance at the University of Houston is using an innovative approach to study food addictions in hope of finding strategies to assess and treat them.

"There is a growing body of research that shows that consumption of palatable food stimulates the same reward and motivation centers of the brain that recognised addictive drugs do," Ledoux said.

"These cravings are related to overeating, unsuccessful weight loss and obesity."

Ledoux and Professor Patrick Bordnick, Director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work`s Virtual Reality Lab, will use virtual environments to try to induce food cravings.

Bordnick`s body of research has focused on addictive behaviours and phobias and has used virtual reality as a tool to assess and treat them.

In this new investigation, participants will wear a virtual reality helmet to enter a "real-world" restaurant, complete with all the sights, sounds and smells.

A joystick will allow them to walk to a buffet, encounter waitstaff and other patrons.

"Virtual reality will allow us to identify food and food-related stimuli of the built, home, school and social environment that cue food cravings, which has public policy, public health and clinical treatment implications.

"Our study is innovative because it provides a very effective, cost-efficient tool that can be used to increase our understanding of food cravings," Ledoux said. Ledoux is recruiting participants now.

"Obesity is a pervasive and intractable problem with significant public health and economic costs in our society, Finding the elements that promote overeating is critical for reversing the dangerous obesity trend," she said.


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