Coronavirus and Eating Disorders Visit the hub

Investigating the use of virtual reality food scenarios

Investigating the use of virtual reality food scenarios

Author: Dr Rebecca Murphy

Affiliation: University of Oxford

Contact Email:

Contact Name: Dr Rebecca Murphy

What is the purpose of the research?

Interest in the uses of virtual reality technology in healthcare is increasing. We are interested in the potential uses of virtual reality to help people with eating problems. To date, there has been limited research investigating virtual reality technology in this area. The aim of this study is to see if there are any differences in the way people with eating disorder features react in virtual reality food environments compared to those without these features. This will help us to understand how useful this new technology could be in helping to develop future treatments. Our longer-term goal is to investigate the use of virtual reality to enhance evidence-based cognitive-behavioural treatment for eating disorders.

We are looking for people aged 18 years and over to take part in a new study investigating virtual reality food scenarios. We would like to recruit people who have repeated episodes of binge eating and engage in self-induced vomiting or laxative use afterwards (in an attempt to prevent weight gain). We are unable to include people in the study who have severely high levels of vomiting/laxative use; are severely underweight; are markedly depressed or have suicidal thoughts; are pregnant; or who have photosensitive epilepsy.

Who can take part?

We would like to recruit people aged 18 years or over who (i) have repeated episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or laxative use afterwards to prevent weight gain and (ii) are very concerned about their body shape and weight. By “binge eating” we mean episodes of eating in which you have felt out of control at the time and have eaten an unusually large amount of food for the circumstances. We are looking for people who experience these episodes at least once a week and for a duration of three or more months.

We will be asking people who wish to participate about their current weight. We are unable to accept people who are engaging in severely high levels of vomiting/laxative use, or who are significantly underweight, or significantly overweight, or those who have problems with substance misuse. Nor can we accept people who are pregnant, markedly depressed or have photosensitive epilepsy.

You should not take part if you are at moderate or high risk of developing a severe course of COVID-19 (according to the NHS guidance: Please note, individuals within these categories who have been double vaccinated are permitted to participate.

What does the study involve?

We have revised study procedures in accordance with recommended safety measures for protecting against COVID-19. Both the researcher and participant will complete a COVID symptom assessment form on the day of the study session, wear protective equipment (a face mask for participants, and a face mask and gloves for the researcher), and practice social distancing where possible. The researcher will also perform enhanced cleaning of the virtual reality equipment.

If you would like to take part, you will be asked to complete some online eligibility questions, which will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. If the study is not suitable for you then we will inform you by email.

If you do meet the criteria for study participation, we will email you to arrange a time to come in to our department in Oxford to take part in a study session.

When you come to the session, you will be asked to complete some questionnaires about eating problems and your thoughts and feelings. You will experience an introductory virtual reality scenario, which will familiarise you with virtual reality. You will then experience two different virtual reality scenarios, with a brief questionnaire after each one. The scenarios include exposure to a virtual reality food environment. The entire session should take approximately one hour to complete.

We will reimburse you with £50 in cash for your time and travel expenses on completion of the study.

How can you take part?

If you are interested in taking part, please email


This study is funded by the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.