About this Research Topic
Obesity is one of the most visible but neglected public health challenges of the 21st century. Its prevalence has markedly tripled worldwide since the 1980s and the number of those affected continues to rise alarmingly. Developing effective treatment approaches for obesity has been identified as a research and health priority considering its huge psychological impact, comorbidities, and associated costs. Lifestyle interventions and weight-loss programs in combination with behavioural treatment strategies are considered the gold standard interventions for obesity. However, poor patient adherence at mid-long term to these interventions remains a key factor hindering treatment effectiveness and health-related outcomes. Several obstacles to successful adherence to lifestyle interventions in patients with obesity have been addressed through interventions based on novel technologies, including Virtual Reality (VR). Preliminary findings have proved its value in the assessment and treatment of obesity, favouring real-time experience of the body (embodiment) and as a cue exposure tool for reducing food craving. However, future research should deepen our understanding of designing, developing, and evaluating VR tools for the treatment of obesity.
There is a need to increase our understanding of the psychosocial factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of obesity and effectively address them in treatment. These factors involve body image disturbances and weight stigma, motivation, food, and weight as a means of emotional coping and negative affect. Additionally, the present Covid-19 pandemic has placed an even greater psychological burden on patients with obesity taking into account physical distancing and stay-at-home orders and the associated psychosocial derangement.
This Research Topic aims to identify the VR applications currently investigated for obesity treatment, and their potential to promote behavioural change, healthier lifestyle, and treatment adherence. VR-based interventions show promising long-term effects in bridging the gap between clinical settings for obesity treatment and patients´ daily lives, thus improving treatment engagement and satisfaction. In particular, VR techniques are being applied as complementary tools to traditional treatment for obesity and offer valid and safe options to address psychological aspects related to obesity that are not feasible in real-world settings.
Nevertheless, there are still open questions, most notable: to what extent progress within VR interventions can be transferred into real-life. The Research Topic aims to gather contributions about evidence-based psychological techniques currently used for the treatment of obesity using VR tools. These can include the use of VR for:
• deal with body image disturbances and related stigma through embodiment;
• practice decision-making and problem-solving skills for better management of obstacles related to weight loss (i.e., eating stimuli, intense emotions, and problematic thoughts);
• facilitate exposure to fearful situations in a protected environment; and
• any other innovative VR technique to tackle obesity and its psychosocial determinants, in the era of the pandemic and beyond.
This article collection is focused on answering questions such as:
• Can evidence-based psychological techniques for the treatment of obesity be successfully delivered in a VR setting?
• What is the user experience of these VR tools?
• Are there usability and accessibility problems?
• Are there specific ethical and privacy issues that need to be addressed when designing and implementing VR interventions?
• Are these VR interventions affordable and can they transfer to real-world benefits for patients?
• What technologies are ready to use now, and what technologies still need to be developed and made more robust?
This Research Topic welcomes the following article types: Original Research, Review, Opinion, Perspective, and Study Protocols.
Keywords: Obesity, Eating and Weight Disorders, psychological treatment, virtual reality, body ownership, embodiment
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.