The True Health Care Crisis

With today's online world competing for our time, many of us are now finding ourselves stretched between numerous online networking Web sites. Whether we're blogging, Facebook-ing, Twittering, Myspace-ing, LinkedIn-ing, Second Life-ing, etc., online social networking, as evidenced by the existence of this blog page, has become part of an ever-growing list of daily, online professional duties.

In my preparation for our Web site's new blog, I decided I would create an avatar -- a virtual representation of myself. This got me wondering why so many of us have created these avatars and what do our avatars' appearance say about us? Particularly, for the purposes of this blog, what do our avatars' appearance say about our health? Then I came across an interesting article from a fairly new monthly "journal" titled Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, which covers wide-ranging issues concerning online virtual worlds. These issues include virtual applications for health care, education, innovation, and consumer behavior. Its latest issue includes "Does this Avatar Make Me Look Fat? Obesity and Interviewing in Second Life." It details a study in which researchers conducted a preliminary, "exhaustive" survey of 29 users in Second Life to test three hypotheses. The following two caught my attention:

Hypothesis 1 states, "Individuals with avatars who engage in physical activities in [Second Life] are more likely to engage in physical activities in real life." According to the survey, 15 respondents reported that their avatars participated in vigorous or moderate physical or leisure activities (e.g., running, sports, dancing) at least once a week. Of this group, 80 percent also reported participating in high physical activity in real life. The remaining 14 users surveyed reported that their avatars participated in such activity occasionally or not at all. Of this group, 57.1 percent said they do not participate in physical activity weekly or more often in Second Life.

Hypothesis 2 states, "Individuals with thinner avatars are more likely to be thinner in real life." According to the results, 14 respondents with thin avatars had an average real-life BMI of 24.7--within the range 18.5-24.9 for normal weight. Fifteen of the respondents who had heavier avatars had an average real-life BMI of 27.4--within the range of 25.0-29.9 for overweight.

What does this tell us? Assuming this "scientific" study is correct; as more people create online, faithful avatars of themselves, will we soon also have an obesity epidemic online? How will this influence online medicine? Will our portly avatars now be draining online Medicare? Shouldn't Congress be discussing national online health care coverage? And should we start investing in online parks and recreation projects, or ban trans fats in the online world to stem the coming tide?

Posted by Marc Barrera on Aug 10, 2009