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Self Conversation in Virtual Reality Embodiment to Enhance Healthier Lifestyles Among Obese People

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOCRATES (Self Conversation in Virtual Reality Embodiment to Enhance Healthier Lifestyles Among Obese People)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Over half the adults in Europe are overweight (https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/ddn-20210721-2) including 17% classified as obese. Being overweight can have a highly negative impact on health. This can lead to heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis, and also cancer. Any of these conditions can lead to premature death. As well as the direct health implications and its consequences for individuals and families, there is a considerable economic burden. For example, Müller-Riemenschneider et al https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18509729/ report costs in the billions, and a "substantial economic burden". On the other hand it has been reported that obesity treatment is underfunded in many countries in Europe (https://easo.org/survey-of-access-to-obesity-care-in-europe-for-adults/). The aim of the SOCRATES project is to approach obesity from a different point of view. Taking advantage of the low cost availability of high quality virtual reality devices in recent years, and growing take up of the technology for home use, SOCRATES is investigating and providing a method that aims to be used for treatment of obesity, allowing even for the possibility of ultimate home use.

This project is based on a new paradigm for self-counselling in virtual reality. The idea is based on embodied perspective taking where patients can see and interact with a virtual human character that looks very much like themselves. In SOCRATES we exploit this method with three approaches addressed to the problem of patients with obesity. The first is to help patients understand the problem. They will see a close likeness of their real body shape. When people look in a mirror they see what they expect or want to see. Seeing yourself in full 3D stereo is rarely if ever possible in everyday life, and the expectation is that seeing their true (rather than imagined) body shape from this unusual perspective, will act as a motivation. A second aspect of this is that it is designed to help patients overcome their own self-stigmatisation to recognise that their worth is independent of their contingent body shape. In the third instantiation patients will be encouraged to understand the possibility of having a healthy and fit body corresponding with their own desire, with the goal to enhance their autonomy.
During the first year of the project the vision has advanced on many fronts. The partners have been working together to lay the foundations of work through the specification of the product. The technical foundation of all three envisaged scenarios have been implemented and are in the process of being tested. Progress has been made on the integration into one overall application for use. There have been pilot studies including with patients although the clinical evaluation is not due to start until Month 17. However, the full protocol has been submitted for ethics, and revised according to their recommendations. Dissemination has progressed through the establishment of web pages that are both public oriented and serve as a means of communication and record keeping for the Consortium. A Data Management Plan has been designed and implemented. Several experimental studies and pilot studies have been ongoing. Due to the impossibility of physically meeting and sharing equipment during the pandemic there have nevertheless been significant delays in pilot and usability studies. It is too early in the project to comment on impact or exploitation results. Overall in spite of the difficulties caused by the pandemic during 2020 and carrying over to 2021 the project is essentially on track in its deployment of this unusual and potentially exciting tool, and we believe, will ultimately be of great help to patients.
SOCRATES IMAGE