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

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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Correspondence to C M McBride.

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McBride, C., Persky, S., Wagner, L. et al. Effects of providing personalized feedback of child’s obesity risk on mothers’ food choices using a virtual reality buffet. Int J Obes 37, 1322–1327 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.87

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.87

Keywords

  • genomic risk
  • parents
  • communication
  • family health history

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