HoustonPBS UH Moment: Studying Food Cravings Through Virtual Reality

“We are going to go ahead and put this helmet on you.” 

Health and human performance professor Tracy Ledoux is outfitting a study participant with a virtual reality helmet.

“Obesity in our society, as we all know, is a major public health problem,” said Ledoux. 

In collaboration with Professor Patrick Bordnick, director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work’s Virtual Reality Lab, Ledoux is taking a novel approach to studying food cravings by gathering data on what triggers cravings. Ledoux leads the study participant through the exercise, which takes place in a virtual reality restaurant, and monitors their response. 

“I am going to have you walk over to the buffet table so you can see the foods on that table.”

According to Ledoux, research has shown that people respond neuro-biologically to food in the same way they do to addictive substances like tobacco and alcohol. Better understanding what leads to cravings can lead to more successful interventions.

“The future of this research is very promising,” said Bordnick. “From what we learn about cravings, we can develop treatments to make healthy food choices, understand the underpinnings of food craving, leading to better dieting practices and maybe teaching skills to manage food and food cravings.”


UH Moment is a weekly feature heard on KUHT and HoustonPBS, KUHT. Each week, you'll hear students, faculty and administrators telling stories of the innovative research, programs and successes that make up the story of the University of Houston.