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Baylor College of Medicine News

Grant to study virtual weight management program for women with mobility impairments

The struggle with weight management is one that many women face, but for those with mobility impairments, it is multiplied by a long list of barriers they must overcome.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) and colleagues have received a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to develop a virtual reality weight management intervention for women with mobility impairments.

Researchers from BCM, the University of Houston’s Texas Obesity Research Center, the University of Montana Rural Institute and Case Western Reserve University received more than $550,000 to develop the virtual program, GoWoman.

Based on Diabetes Prevention Program

"There’s a lot of attention given to issues of being overweight, but you inject into that the issue of disability, and things get complicated," said Dr. Margaret Nosek, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at BCM. "We are going to develop an intervention based on the Diabetes Prevention Program and we're going to adapt it to make it relevant to women with disabilities."

Nosek, herself a wheelchair user, notes numerous environmental and physical barriers that women with disabilities face when trying to manage their weight, including parks and other facilities that are not wheelchair accessible, safety issues and family responsibilities.

SecondLife

The GoWoman program addresses these barriers by first making the intervention available through a virtual reality program called SecondLife®. This 3-D multi-user virtual environment on the internet allows its "residents" to interact with one another through avatars. The avatar, the user’s representation of herself, can be as similar or as different from her real self as she wishes, meaning she does not have to have a disability in Second Life®.

The program will mostly focus on diet and nutrition and will address barriers that women with mobility impairments face when preparing foods, such as the use of their arms and their ability to stand up. It will offer tips on cooking and preparing foods using low-tech devices in the market that make cooking and preparing foods easier. Nosek notes that many women with mobility impairments currently purchase prepared foods, which can be high in sodium.

"We’re going to try to gather information and put it in a web-based format so that the women can access it easily, use the information and put it together to make a diet that will work for them. It’s going to be a very tailored program," said Nosek.

Interaction and support

Combining this type of information with a virtual reality program enables women to interact with and support one another without leaving their homes, as well as set goals and make a realistic plan for reaching those goals, said Nosek.

The program will also provide information about physical activity, such as advisable types of exercise for women with mobility impairments.

"The Texas Obesity Research Center promotes physical activity and healthful dietary habits in women and has performed innovative work with virtual platforms to help hard to reach po"ulations," said Dr. Rebecca Lee, professor at the University of Houston and director of the center. "Obesity is the No.1 public health problem facing the world today, and there are almost no effective strategies known to help women with disabilities prevent and control the additional, debilitating condition of obesity. We are excited to partner with CROWD."