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Jun 28

Online Computer Game Helps Drop Pounds


By Janice Wood

A new computerized game could help people control their snacking and lose weight, according to new research.

A new study from psychologists at the University of Exeter and Cardiff University shows that participants lost an average of 0.7 kg (about 1.5 pounds) and consumed around 220 fewer calories a day while undergoing a week of training on the online computer game.

With obesity reaching epidemic proportions, the research opens up possibilities that brain training techniques targeting problematic behaviors — such as overeating and drinking alcohol — might help people take control, the researchers noted.

Led by Dr. Natalia Lawrence, the researchers developed an online computer game that trains people to resist unhealthy snack foods. The game requires people to repeatedly avoid pressing on pictures of certain images — for example, biscuits — while responding to other images, such as fruit or clothes. This trains people to associate calorie-dense foods with “stopping,” according to the researchers.

In a previous study, the researchers showed that this training reduces how much food people eat in laboratory tests.

The new study, published in the journal Appetite, found that 41 adults who completed four 10-minute sessions of the online training lost a small but significant amount of weight and ate fewer calories, according to estimates derived from food diaries.

The training also reduced how much the calorie-dense “stop” foods were liked, according to the researchers.

The reduction in weight and unhealthy snacking was maintained six months after the study, according to participants’ self-reporting.

The effects were observed relative to a control group of 42 adults who completed the same “stop versus go” training, but involving pictures of non-food objects, the researchers added.

“These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerized tool can change people’s everyday eating behavior,” said Lawrence.

She noted that while it is “exciting to see the effects of our lab studies translate to the real world,” the research is still in its infancy.

“Larger, registered trials with longer-term measures need to be conducted,” she noted. “However, our findings suggest that this cognitive training approach is worth pursuing: It is free, easy to do and 88 percent of our participants said they would be happy to keep doing it and would recommend it to a friend. This opens up exciting possibilities for new behavior change interventions based on underlying psychological processes.”

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