Obesity Prevention in Second Life: The International Health Challenge

Rebecca E. Lee (University of Houston, USA), Charles S. Layne (University of Houston, USA), Brian K. McFarlin (University of Houston, USA), Daniel O’Connor (University of Houston, USA), and Sameer Siddiqi (University of Houston, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 120
EISBN13: 9781616921514|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-878-9.ch007
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In industrialized societies, between 50% and 75% of the population weigh in at overweight or obese health status (Low, Chew Chin, Deurenberg, 2009; Ogden, 2007). Ecologic models posit that heath behavior and outcomes are related to the environmental settings in which humans live, work and play; if environmental settings are not supportive, then poor health results. (Spence & Lee, 2003) Second Life is an interactive virtual world that is global, an ideal setting to reach international audiences who are real life residents of industrialized communities at high risk for obesity. Second Life provides a unique opportunity to increase knowledge, social support and behavioral skills necessary to reduce or prevent obesity with much broader reach than traditional face to face intervention strategies. Health behavior change interventions have had success in real life by exposing participants to interventions in virtual worlds, suggesting that information and skills learned in virtual worlds may translate to real life (Anderson, Rothbaum, Hodges, 2000). The International Health Challenge in Second Life began with the goal of extending the real life mission, goals and activities of the Texas Obesity Research Center of the University of Houston into Second Life. What emerged was a fun, exciting, interactive, multicultural, multilingual, theoretically grounded, virtual setting where resident avatars of Second Life learned about healthful living, met others like them, and had virtual experiences that in turn contributed to real life health improvement. This chapter investigates the utility of applying the ecologic model of health to virtual worlds to reduce the public health burden of obesity, with the case example of the International Health Challenge.
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