Study Shows How Mixed Reality Can Enhance Research On Eating Habits

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In 2020, over 40% of the US population had obesity, a rise from 30% in 2000, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers are studying modern eating environments, including smartphones, ads, and social settings, to comprehend their impact on eating behaviors and obesity.

Mixed reality can enhance research processes

Researchers from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development have discovered that mixed reality, which combines real-world video footage with virtual environments, can enhance and streamline research processes. Travis Masterson, a professor at Penn State, and his graduate student, John Long, explored the application of mixed reality in studies related to eating behavior and food choices and shared their results in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

In current research, eating behavior is primarily examined in sterile laboratory settings, lacking the real-world stimuli present in restaurants. Masterson and Long propose that mixed-reality, using virtual-reality (VR) headsets and advanced software, can enable more accurate emulation of real-world environments for studying eating behaviors, eliminating the need to physically recreate specific settings in laboratories. This innovation improves data accuracy.

According to Masterson the utilization of such environments is a time and cost-saving measure. It supports sustainable and cost-effective research practices. Additionally, this technology enables researchers to include often overlooked communities. The mobile mixed-reality headsets offer flexibility, allowing studies to be conducted beyond traditional laboratories, even in under-represented areas like farmers’ markets.

Virtual reality holds promise in studying eating patterns

In virtual reality (VR), everything the user sees, including their own body parts, is computer-generated. Newer headsets can track a user’s hands and create virtual hands in the VR environment, enhancing immersion. However, this can be problematic when real-life objects are essential for research purposes, according to Long.

In their study, Masterson and Long found that mixed-reality technology enhances researchers’ ability to analyse eating behavior without expensive real-world restaurant research. This insight is crucial for improving public health by understanding environmental factors that impact eating choices.

Materson said that what their lab did was confirm validity of different tools that can be employed depending on questions they have.

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