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Avatars might encourage women to lose weight: Study

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Avatars might help women lose weight, a new study finds. (Thinkstock)

Avatars might help women lose weight, a new study finds. (Thinkstock)

Virtual reality avatars can help encourage women to lose weight, according to a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.

Researchers asked 128 women about their interest in using avatars—virtual representations of themselves—as tools to help them lose weight. According to the findings, nearly 90 percent of women asked expressed an interest in the technology.

The researchers then selected eight women to take part in the four-week avatar study. WTOP.com spoke to George Washington University's Melissa Napolitano, who served as lead author on the study.

Napolitano explained that the participants checked in once per week at a clinic. While there, each woman watched a 15-minute DVD that featured an avatar that looked like her.

From WTOP.com:

Each week, the avatar demonstrated a specific weight loss skill, from judging portion size to tackling mindless snacking, with narration provided by a dietitian.

"Their avatar went through a grocery store, snacked at a dinner table, watched TV and also exercised on a treadmill," said Napolitano.

Watching their avatar engage in positive activities apparently inspired the participants to lose weight in the real world. During the study, the participants lost an average of 3.5 pounds, according to the findings. That is on par with the average weight loss for a person on a diet. The hope is that by bonding with their avatar, people will be encouraged to make longer-term life changes.

"When an avatar looks like you, it increases self-efficacy, which is somebody's confidence that they themselves have the ability to do that act," Napolitano told USA Today. "You can visualize yourself doing something and realize, 'Wow, it's really not that hard.'"

So, why was the study just for women? According to WTOP, it was a budgetary issue. The researchers didn't have money to create avatars for both men and women.

Napolitano told reporters that she and her team are "excited by the potential of this technology as a scalable tool to help people learn the skills to be successful at weight loss over the long run."

This isn't the first study to incorporate avatars. Science Daily wrote that a Stanford University study found that people who watched an avatar of themselves exercising were more likely to exercise themselves than if they'd watched an avatar that didn't look like them.

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