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article imageShaping consumer eating habits with VR technology

By Tim Sandle     Nov 23, 2017 in Lifestyle
Consumption of ‘unhealthy foods’ is a major societal problem, especially with spiraling obesity rates in so-called ‘developed countries’. Can consumer behavior be modified to eat more healthy foods through the use of virtual reality?
Many different campaigns have been run to try to alter consumer behaviors towards dietary changes in a bid to lower obesity rates. These include campaigns by charitable bodies and forms of taxation on sugary products by governments.
A serious health concern
These attempts at nudge economics have only had limited success, if obesity rates are a reflective measure of activities in the public and private spheres. Nudge theory aims to use positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance so that behavior and decision making alters.
The problem is, according to the World Health Organization, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, are overweight. Of these over 650 million are categorized as obese.
What else can be done to stop ballooning waste lines? A new initiative proposed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is looking into whether health-promoting foods can appear more appealing through the digital tools, which may enhance eating experiences? This is based on studies that suggest virtual reality immersion can alter brain signals.
A new digital food industry?
This is part of a developing scientific consensus that virtual and augmented reality has the potential to enhance and modify human perceptions of real-life experiences.
Commenting on the idea, the lead researcher from the university, Nesli Sözer, is quoted by as saying: “Now is the time to integrate these technologies with food, nutrition and human responses. New digital business across traditional sectoral boundaries will lead to novel opportunities for the digital and food industries.”
As to what this might mean as a practical application, the idea is to make healthy food more attractive by deploying digital tools to enhance consumers' eating environments, which may alter their eating experience.
Eating 2.0
This will be evaluated through a research study designed to explore the extent to which virtual reality immersion alters sensory evaluations made by people towards snacks classed as both healthy and unhealthy. The researchers will assess emotional responses to different eating situations.
Early studies show, based on trials involving 67 volunteers in three test environments, that the use of virtual reality can alter consumers' self-reported evaluations of the eating experience and the emotions that accompany it. In such studies, the researchers used virtual immersion experiences like sunny days for healthy food and rainy days for unhealthy foods.
Further studies will be conducted and discussion will need to be held with policy makers about how such technologies might be practically used in food consumption settings.
More about Virtual reality, augmented reality, Food, Healthy eating
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