Tetris, social gaming helps with weight loss

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, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Researchers from The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island made an interesting discovery regarding a social gaming site's link to weight loss. DietBet is an online commercial weight loss program that combines social influence with financial incentive, resulting in "significant" user weight loss.

Published in JMIR Serious Games, Tricia Leahey, Ph.D. and her team at the The Miriam Hospital Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center were interested in the results of DietBet and similar web-based programs.

"Online social weight loss programs are accessible to large numbers of overweight and obese individuals who want to lose weight," Leahey noted, "but there has been little research to date on whether such programs are effective, or just how much weight loss they generate."

So how does DietBet work? Participants join weight loss games while placing money bets on themselves. Players subsequently have one month to lose four percent of their current weight. After the four-week period, users who lost four percent or more "win" and split all bet money. Each player must send weigh-in photos to DietBet "referees" to ensure accuracy.

Leahey tracked the progress of almost 40,000 DietBet players over a seven-month period. Her findings showed winners lost an average of 4.9% of body fat after four weeks, and won an average of $59. Factors contributing to game success included sharing progress/game information on Facebook, increasing bets, interacting with other players and logging numerous weigh-ins. She also noted that more weight was lost when players motivated and otherwise influenced one another.

"Research evaluating the effectiveness of web-based weight-loss programs is rare," Leahey said, "and this study could help consumers lose weight together as part of a web-based community."

"This study backs up in a scientific way what we've been seeing all along, which is that players in our DietBet game get meaningful motivation and support from a combination of competition, collaboration, and financial incentives," remarked Jamie Rosen, founder and CEO of DietBetter, creator of DietBet. "Plus, it's a lot of fun."

Another example of gaming in relation to weight loss? Tetris! Recent research from Plymouth University in the UK indicates playing the classic video game reduces cravings, whether for food, sex or cigarettes. Tetris distracts the imagery-based part of the brain that handles these cravings, essentially blocking them out to focus on the game.


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