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Tackling obesity through Motivational Avatars

Published: Tues 5 Dec 2017
Tackling obesity through Motivational Avatars

Experts from the Universities of Bradford and Leeds are changing the way healthcare professionals tackle obesity with the creation of motivational avatars.

In a feasibility study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Bradford and Leeds academics will work alongside clinicians from Mid Yorkshire Hospital Trust to create and test a unique programme where patients get their own personal avatar to help spur on their weight loss. The avatar will be used to demonstrate the effects obesity can have on the body and how even small changes can make a big difference to a patient’s wellbeing.

Lead on the project Maryann Hardy, Professor of Radiography and Imaging Practice Research at the University of Bradford, said: “Research shows that patients are not always great at following the advice of healthcare professionals, for example returning to work too early after an injury or not completing a course of antibiotics because they feel better. This has an effect on not only the patients but on society and the NHS as a whole.

“We know that people often respond better to visual demonstrations than they do to listening to advice, so we hope that by creating an avatar that looks like themselves, patients will be able to connect with the advice of health professionals better and see for themselves the many benefits that could come with losing weight.”

Professor Hardy is working with Professor Andrew Hill and Professor Maria Horne from the University of Leeds and Mr Trevor Murrells from Kings College London on the project, with the programme being co-created by Professor Hassan Ugail and his team from the University of Bradford’s Centre for Visual Computing.

The programme will be created with service users and is thought to be the first use of Avatars in the NHS.

Professor Hardy explains the potential: “If successful, motivational avatars could be used in helping various conditions where patient compliance is an issue. This is just the start of an exciting project with lots of potential to really help people and we are looking forward to seeing what the final programme will look like.”

The Motivar project, short for Motivational Avatars, was awarded £249,925 from the NIHR for a two year research project. The project started this Autumn with the aim of having a programme developed to test by Autumn 2018 and results available by Summer 2019. Service users and patients will be fully involved in the design, testing and evaluation of the new programme.

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