Digital dietician created in the US

Posted: 25 May 2022 | | No comments yet

A digital dietician has been created at Penn State University using VR technology in the hopes of helping people make better dietary choices.

Penn State

A new program that uses immersive virtual reality (VR) to fill the role of a digital dietitian has been created and may eventually be able to improve the nutrition care process, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The Immersive Virtual Alimentation and Nutrition Application (IVAN) application was developed at The Pennsylvania State (Penn State) University in the US. It uses VR headsets to “make the user feel like they are speaking to a real nutritionist in an office setting” and “walks the user through interactive activities designed to teach them about nutrition concepts like portion size and calorie density”.

A team of experts, including registered dietitians and education specialists, evaluated the IVAN program across a range of different domains.

“The program scored highly across all domains, which suggests it was received positively overall and the experts felt it would be useful to users,” said Travis Masterson, Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Director of the Health, Ingestive Behavior, and Technology Lab at Penn State.

According to the researchers, the ability to make good choices about nutrition is an important skill to have, but high-quality, science-backed information is hard to come by.

“Registered dietitians are trained to help individuals improve their diets and are able to meet and work with people to improve their daily habits in a very individualised and personal way,” Masterson said. “But they often end up spending a large portion of their visits teaching basic nutrition concepts, which is not always an effective use of their time or skills.”

Masterson said that in the future, the program may be able to save clinics time and money while “freeing up the time of their registered dieticians to spend providing individualised feedback and targeted goal setting”.

“The program gives users a realistic experience that is likely to improve their skills more than just watching a slideshow presentation or reading a pamphlet,” Masterson said. “In addition to clinical settings, we also hope to be able to distribute the IVAN program widely in the future for use in schools or even at home.” 

The researchers add that, as well as providing education on nutrition, the digital dietician also gives users a fun and engaging experience.

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