Virtual Population Obesity Prevention (VPOP) Labs
Project Lead: Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA
Simulation modeling has transformed many professions and industries such as transportation, air traffic control, meteorology and manufacturing. For example, the ‘live’ weather maps frequently shown on television are simulation models that combine and synthesize information from many different types of data from sources such as air, land and water temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction and cloud patterns.
Obesity results from and involves a complex system of policy, economic, environmental, social, cultural, behavioral and biological factors and relationships. Using simulation modeling can help to design and test various obesity-related policies, interventions and possible solutions with the safety of a computer saving time, money and resources.
To develop simulation models of a given community, city or region that can serve as virtual laboratories to test different policies and interventions. Decision-makers and stakeholders can use the virtual laboratories to design and test hypothetical obesity prevention policies and interventions with the safety of a computer before trying in real life.
Our VPOP Labs can help:
- Policymakers design, plan, evaluate or advocate for policies or interventions
- Funders determine the impact (e.g., return-on-investment) of supporting a particular policy, program, or intervention
- Businesses and Community Members understand how a new policy or intervention may affect them
- Researchers explore the causes of obesity and potential solutions
Examples of Current Work
To date, the GOPC has developed VPOP simulation models of the following cities: Baltimore, Mexico, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Each model includes geospatially explicit virtual representations of the children, homes, school, food sources and physical activity locations of the designated city. Each virtual agent–like a real person, has an age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Each simulated day, the virtual people move from their homes to various locations to eat and exercise. Each person has an embedded metabolic model that then processes the calories ingested and the calories expended. Over time each virtual person will gain or lose weight, depending on his/her caloric intake.
This is an example of our Virtual Baltimore Laboratory:
Examples of questions the VPOP models have helped answer are:
- What is the economic, epidemiologic and clinical impact of increasing the physical activity of children?
- What is the impact on obesity of reducing crime?
- How can increasing the number of trained coaches impact youth participation rates in physical activity?
- How can the implementation of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) warning labels impact obesity prevalence?
Sample VPOP publications:
- Modeling The Economic And Health Impact Of Increasing Children’s Physical Activity In The United States
- Simulating the Impact of Crime on African American Women's Physical Activity and Obesity
- Simulating the Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Warning Labels in Three Cities