Effects of providing personalized feedback of child's obesity risk on mothers' food choices using a virtual reality buffet

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Providing personalized genetic-risk feedback of a child's susceptibility to adult-onset health conditions is a topic of considerable debate. Family health history (FHH), specifically parental overweight/obesity status, is a useful assessment for evaluating a child's genetic and environmental risk of becoming obese. It is unclear whether such risk information may influence parents' efforts to reduce their child's risk of obesity.

PURPOSE:

To evaluate whether telling mothers the magnitude of their child's risk of becoming obese based on personal FHH influenced food choices for their young child from a virtual reality-based buffet restaurant.

METHODS:

Overweight/obese mothers of a child aged 4-5 years who met eligibility criteria (N=221) were randomly assigned to one of three experimental arms, which emphasized different health information: arm 1, food safety control (Control); arm 2, behavioral-risk information (BRI) alone or arm 3, behavioral-risk information plus personal FHH-based risk assessment (BRI + FHH). Mothers donned a head-mounted display to be immersed in a virtual restaurant buffet, where they selected virtual food and beverages as a lunch for their child.

RESULTS:

Mothers who were randomized to BRI + FHH filled the index child's plate with an average of 45 fewer calories than those in the Control arm (P<0.05); those in the BRI arm filled the plate with 35 fewer calories than the Control arm, a non-significant difference. Calorie restriction was greatest among mothers in the BRI + FHH arm who received the weaker-risk message (that is, only one overweight parent).

CONCLUSIONS:

The influence of communicating a child's inherited risk of obesity on mothers' feeding practices may vary by the risk level conveyed. High-risk messages may best be coupled with strategies to increase mother's perceptions that efforts can be undertaken to reduce risk and build requisite behavioral skills to reduce risk.

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