Can you role-play yourself thin and fit? A new study looks at the popular virtual world game "Second Life" and its effect on users' health and diet choices.

 

Researcher Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz from the University of Missouri surveyed close to 300 "Second Life" users, and asked them how their "avatars" affect their diet and fitness habits in real life.

Bad hair days, flabby arms and extra pounds don't seem to exist among the avatars roaming the virtual playing fields of "Second Life." Longtime New Jersey user Kera Goldsmith says her avatar, TheDiva Rockin, is one of the more realistic ones.

"Originally, I had started with wanting her to look as much like me as I could," said Goldsmith. "I have a little bit of weight on me, I try to keep her lean, but you know, average size figure. I'm short, she is about the same height as I am in real life."

Goldsmith says for most users, the avatars represent their ideal self, how they would like to look. How does that impact their first life bodies?

Behm-Morawitz found that beautiful avatars can prompt people to lose weight and get into shape.

"As they are receiving positive feedback from others online, by embodying or inhabiting this virtual, idealized form, this then motivates them to make some changes in their offline lives as well," she said.

Behm-Morawitz says virtual worlds could be a resource for weight-loss programs, as they allow people to try on new identities, and to create inspiration through the positive feedback they receive online.

Goldsmith says she feels comfortable with her body in real life, but has "tried out" different things on her avatar, tattoos and hair styles that she then put on her own body.

She says playing the game has a great benefit -- she can lose 20 pounds in two seconds.