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May 14, 2012

IBM Wants to Make a Game of Weight Loss, Complete with Prizes

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

IBM (News - Alert) has a plan in mind for making a game out of weight loss, according to the results of a patent awarded to the computer giant today. The game will yield big rewards for those who follow through.

The patent in question detailed a concept where IBM assembled a game, which takes advantage of certain psychological precepts to not only help give users the best chance of losing weight, but give them some free extras.

The game's inventor, Michael Paolini, based the game on the Honda (News - Alert) Insight hybrid car, which detailed how a driver's driving habits affected the car's performance in gas mileage. He then realized a similar method would likely be effective for weight loss as well, with people actually viewing what their habits did to their weight loss goals.

Paolini, who himself lost 18 pounds playing the game, said the intention is to bring immediate rewards for doing thing that are conducive to weight loss, like adopting healthier eating habits – an actual apple over a slice of apple pie – or a number of types of exercising.

The game would be useful for businesses or insurance providers who want to try and reduce their healthcare costs by encouraging people to engage in better overall behavior. And while there is some advantage here – choosing that apple over that slice of apple pie, for example – might yield cash rewards or discount on insurance premiums, it has one distinct flaw in that it depends on people's honest reports of eating and behaviors. That ten-foot walk to the mailbox could turn into a half-mile, or that entire apple pie could become just one slice, which is, after all, a fair description of an entire pie.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems in weight loss on a psychological level is the lack of reinforcement. The positive decision today to go for a walk has no immediate payoff, thus there's nothing to connect it to in the mind outside of a tenuous "someday I'll be healthier because I did this" concept.

Tasty, fattening foods often taste good immediately. Eating them causes good feeling, a good feeling people want to repeat. Many healthy foods, meanwhile, can't say the same, and eating them doesn't cause the same kind of immediate, repeatable "reward" for their consumption.

IBM's newly-patented game may well be a useful tool in improving people's overall health, but it likely has a long way to go from the patent stage to the market release.  

Edited by Braden Becker

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