Interreality: The Experiential Use of Technology in the Treatment of Obesity

Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health 4 Mar 2011 RESEARCH ARTICLE DOI: 10.2174/1745017901107010051


For many of us, obesity is the outcome of an energy imbalance: more energy input than expenditure. However, our waistlines are growing in spite of the huge amount of diets and fat-free/low-calorie products available to cope with this issue. Even when we are able to reduce our waistlines, maintaining the new size is very difficult: in the year after the end of a nutritional and/or behavioral treatment obese persons typically regain from 30% to 50% of their initial losses. A possible strategy for improving the treatment of obesity is the use of advanced information technologies. In the past, different technologies (internet, virtual reality, mobile phones) have shown promising effects in producing a healthy lifestyle in obese patients. Here we suggest that a new technological paradigm - Interreality – that integrates assessment and treatment within a hybrid experiential environment - including both virtual and real worlds - has the potential to improve the clinical outcome of obesity treatments. The potential advantages offered by this approach are: (a) an extended sense of presence: Interreality uses advanced simulations (virtual experiences) to transform health guidelines and provisions in experiences; (b) an extended sense of community: Interreality uses virtual communities to provide users with targeted – but also anonymous, if required - social support in both real and virtual worlds; (c) real-time feedback between physical and virtual worlds: Interreality uses bio and activity sensors and devices (smartphones) both to track in real time the behavior/health status of the user, and to provide targeted suggestions and guidelines. This paper describes in detail the different technologies involved in the Interreality vision. In order to illustrate the concept of Interreality in practice, a clinical scenario is also presented and discussed: Daniela, a 35-year-old fast-food worker with obesity problems.

Keywords: Interreality, obesity, virtual reality, biosensors, virtual communities, smartphones, experiential therapies.
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