A recent study published in the JMIR Serious Games demonstrates the use of a mobile app to improve how teenagers may view themselves.

Treating weight issues among adolescents remains a challenging area, often complicated by inaccurate body perceptions. 42 students, ages 15-18, took part in the study, with the aim to explore how acceptable such an app would be for adolescent use.

The health app, called Monitor Your Avatar, incorporated three different visual images of the users: Perceived Ideal, and Actual. For the Actual avatar, a 3D scanner (MyBodee) app along with measurements of each student was used to obtain live scans of the students, and then transformed them in the app into an actual visual representation of the student, called an avatar.
Each avatar was viewable by the user, but the Perceived model was generated first and designed by the adolescent personally using a slider menu. Following this, they were given a Target avatar, within realistic, healthy parameters. Finally, the app then generated an Actual avatar from their initial measurements and allowed them to view all of the avatars. Users could move and manipulate the avatars to a degree and view differences in their Perceived versus Actual images.

As this was a pilot study, primary outcomes were focused on usability and user acceptability. The adolescents consistently noted positive impressions of the app, felt the avatars were a good representation of themselves, as well as interest in using the app in the future to help achieve a healthy goal. Critiques included a wish for further customization options for the avatars.

This isn’t the first app study to explore the use of an app to help improve adolescent health, although the approach taken is fairly unique. Traditional video games have long included avatars, with a wide range of possible customization options. Taking this concept and applying it to helping teenagers improve their own body perceptions, as well as set visual goals for health, is a unique twist on such a feature. As this is only a pilot study, considerable research remains before it would be ready for actual clinical use. Eventually, with enough supporting data, we may see such an app employed in Health courses for teenagers and others who are struggling with body perception difficulties.