A virtual supermarket for diabetics

16 October 2018

UvA scientists will be developing a virtual supermarket especially for people with Type 2 diabetes. This application will help users train themselves so they are better able to resist temptations and therefore make healthier food choices. The project is funded by the Diabetes Fonds and the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) within the framework of Diabetes Breakthrough Projects.

It is often very difficult to make healthy choices in supermarkets. As you shop, you are tempted by all the delicious things around you, but also by hunger pangs you might be experiencing while you shop. For adults with diabetes, it is even more difficult to make such choices. Unhealthy choices have an even more detrimental impact on their health and they are even more receptive to unhealthy stimuli in supermarkets.

Proof of concept

A team of communication scientists and psychologists from the University of Amsterdam will be working alongside colleagues from the VUmc to create a virtual supermarket especially for people with diabetes. People can use this virtual reality supermarket to do their shopping like they would in real life, and in doing so train themselves to make healthier choices. The goal is to offer the virtual supermarket as an app for mobile phones.

The Diabetes Fonds and ZonMw will be financing a Proof of Concept, which provides evidence that the innovation is viable and works well in the experiential world of the projected users. The virtual supermarket study is the only project in communication science which has been funded within the framework of Diabetes Breakthrough Projects.

A training ground for diabetics

In order to develop the application, researchers are studying the behaviour of healthy adults, adults with prediabetes, and adults with Type 2 diabetes. Their study focuses on the roles of external distractions (unhealthy food choices available in supermarkets, background music, how busy it is) and internal distractions (experiencing hunger pangs). Ultimately the team wants to deliver a mobile phone application which allows people to train themselves to pay less attention to these internal and external distractions and buy healthy products in real life.

Continued development of the virtual supermarket

The virtual supermarket application is an extension of a conceptual version that was executed in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam. Continuing this development will lead to an improved user experience, so that users really get the feeling they are right in the supermarket. Furthermore, the application will be adapted for groups with special needs, such as diabetics, and formatted as an app for mobile devices that support virtual reality experiences. This continued development will partly take place at the University of Tilburg, where on of the applicants of the project is now based. 

Further information

The app will be available to download for free from the University of Amsterdam website. The study runs from December 2018 until December 2019. 

Project title: When the shopping gets tough, the tough train in virtual reality: a virtual reality approach to promote healthy grocery shopping.

Interesting links

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences