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



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.


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.


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.


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).


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).

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  • genomic risk
  • parents
  • communication
  • family health history

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