Virtual Population Obesity Prevention (VPOP) Labs
Project Lead: Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA
In the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC), scientists use computational simulation models to understand complex systems by evaluating the multiple factors at play. Using information from different sources and disciplines—such as statistics, epidemiology, nutrition, anthropology, sociology, health communications and economics—simulation models examine multifaceted problems like obesity by considering the interactions and effects of multiple factors, processes and influences. Agent-Based Models (ABMs), which treat each person as an individually simulated “agent,” appear particularly promising when it comes to developing systems-focused solutions to the obesity epidemic.
First of its Kind: The Virtual Population Obesity Prevention (VPOP) model is the first obesity-related agent-based model to include detailed representations of multiple levels, including individual behavior (e.g., energy intake and expenditure), social context, physical environment (including food and physical activity sources), and policy. Grounded on collected data and the obesity literature, the VPOP model simulates the food and physical activity behaviors of child and adult agents, allowing users and decision makers to design, test, and evaluate potential or existing obesity programs and policies, within a virtual environment.
Breaking New Grounds: Obesity results from and involves a complex system of policy, economic, environmental, social, cultural, behavioral, and biological factors and relationships. More traditional studies alone may not fully capture and characterize the complex factors and interactions in a community, city, or region. Virtual laboratories can save considerable time, effort, and resources by allowing decision makers and researchers to first test interventions and policies in the safety of a computer before trying them in real life.
The VPOP team collaborates with experts from a range of disciplines and sectors:
- Behavioral sciences
- Medical anthropology
- Environmental health
- Weight management
- Health policy
Example of a Current VPOP
Baltimore Low Income Food Environment (BLIFE) involves the use of mixed methods formative work to enhance the ABM of child agents navigating through a virtual representation of the low income Baltimore food environment.
The specific aims of the model include:
- Conduct formative research to collect additional data on the food behaviors and environment at the household, school, additional food source and recreation center levels.
- Iteratively revise our existing ABM with this collected data and then utilize the progressively revised models to test the impact of and refine policies/programs for these venues.
- Develop a process and the associated ABM tool that can be used to guide data collection, study development, and implementation of obesity prevention programs and policies.
- To offer our approach and tool to the Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN) network to guide and refine their studies and translation of results to policymakers
Click here to find out further information about BLIFE.