Event Abstract

A virtual reality food court to study food selection and identify strategies for change: design and testing

  • 1 University of Sydney, School of Life and Environmental Science, Australia
  • 2 University of Sydney, School of Electrical and Information Engineering, Australia

Rationale: Adolescents and young adults have the poorest diets in nations such as the UK and Australia. Their dietary patterns frequently include ‘fast foods’ with sugary drinks and consumption of other food prepared outside their home. Regular inclusion of these foods leads to higher intakes of deleterious nutrients like saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Aims: The aim of this research was to build a realistic virtual reality food court that could be used to study food and beverage selections and ultimately develop and test educational and food environment interventions that could improve eating behaviours. Methods: Food courts in the Greater Sydney, Australia, were sampled to include those in areas of high and low socioeconomic status in both the central business districts and the suburbs (n=14). Researchers visited the food courts and collected data on the number and type of food outlets in each court, recorded all food and beverage items for sale and their cost and information on sales promotions. All displays were photographed. Fourteen food outlets were created to simulate a typical food court. The outlets were a burger shop, fried and barbequed chicken shop, both a chain and an independent sandwich shop, doughnut shop, muffin shop, café, salad shop, juice bar, fish shop, sushi shop, a kebab shop, a shop selling Asian food, and one selling Indian cuisine. Representative menus were generated and a nutrient database of all foods and beverages assembled to include energy, macronutrients and micronutrients. The Unity® 5.4.0 gaming platform was employed to design the Food Court that was viewed with HTC Vive® goggles connected to an Asus G751JY computer. Eighteen to 30 year olds were recruited at lunch time in a university food court and offered $10 to select a meal and beverage using the virtual reality platform. A validated questionnaire using a scale from 1(poor) to 7 (best) on ‘presence’ within the court (that measures the ability of the person to shift from their physical environment to the virtual one); system usability; and perceived autonomy versus control to choose; was completed at the end of the session. Analysis: Descriptive statistics including percentages, means, median and interquartile ranges (IQR) for responses were calculated using SPSS version 22 IBM Corp, Armonk, NY. Results: One hundred and fifty seven young adults (mean age 22.5 (SD3) years) completed the study (96% response). Sense of control, engagement and involvement were rated highly by more than 60% of participants and 58% ranked realism highly (score of ≥5) with only 8% scoring <3. Seventy percent of participants rated usability highly and subjects thought their food decisions were autonomous. The most popular shop was the Indian food followed by the fish shop but meals were selected from every food outlet. The most popular beverage was regular canned cola. Conclusions: The virtual reality food court appeared to be a realistic milieu and will be used for testing interventions that facilitate healthier behaviours such as building capacity through education, providing opportunity via policies that change food environments and providing extrinsic motivation through promotions.


We acknowledge Yvonne Lee who contributed to data collection in the food courts.

Keywords: virtual reality environment, Food court, Validation study, Young people, nutrition

Conference: 3rd UCL Centre for Behaviour Change Digital Health Conference 2017: Harnessing digital technology for behaviour change, London, United Kingdom, 22 Feb - 23 Feb, 2017.

Presentation Type: Research abstract

Topic: Digital Health

Citation: Allman-Farinelli M, Tran H, Pallotta H, Ramos S, Liu J, Tran D, Wellard L, Ford J and Calvo RA (2017). A virtual reality food court to study food selection and identify strategies for change: design and testing. Front. Public Health. Conference Abstract: 3rd UCL Centre for Behaviour Change Digital Health Conference 2017: Harnessing digital technology for behaviour change. doi: 10.3389/conf.FPUBH.2017.03.00034

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Received: 22 Feb 2017; Published Online: 22 Feb 2017.

* Correspondence: Prof. Margaret Allman-Farinelli, University of Sydney, School of Life and Environmental Science, Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia, margaret.allmanfarinelli@sydney.edu.au

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