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The metaverse offers new tools for public health research

Researchers from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) outline how the metaverse can be used to improve public health.

The metaverse is a virtual reality phenomenon that is poised to revolutionize the way we experience and interact with the world. While it may sound like a Sci-Fi concept, the potential of the metaverse to improve public health is becoming increasingly apparent. A recent article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research outlines several ways in which the metaverse can be used to design, test, and experience health-promoting environments to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases. The study, published by researchers from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), outlines three possible ways in which the metaverse can be utilised for health interventions on a large scale aimed at preventing non-communicable illnesses.

Opportunities in the metaverse for health research

Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and mental illness are influenced by our built environment. The metaverse offers a way to study the effectiveness of interventions that modify the built environment, such as increased green space, walkability, or lower density. Study participants can be randomly assigned to different built environment exposures to test the effectiveness of large-scale interventions before they are implemented in the physical world. This saves time and money, making it an attractive option for public health researchers.

Another opportunity presented by the metaverse is its ability to implement health interventions directly. For example, people can be exposed to natural environments, reducing the negative mental health effects associated with crowded, stress-inducing environments. The flexibility of virtual living spaces and offices allows for endless customization, and changes to environments can be implemented instantly.

Testing newly built environment designs

Thirdly, the metaverse offers a virtual space to test new office and built environment designs in real-time. This means that stakeholders can experience, build, and collaboratively modify proposed changes to the built environment before implementing them in the physical world. This can help to refine designs and ensure that they are effective before committing resources to their implementation.

Uncertainties in the metaverse

While the potential of the metaverse to improve public health is significant, there are also uncertainties that need to be addressed. One concern is the current limitations of the metaverse in simulating real-world human behaviour and interactions with built environments. Additionally, the population of the metaverse may not be representative, as people from economically lower strata have limited access to virtual reality technology. Excessive immersion in virtual environments may also lead to social isolation and anti-social behaviour, which can negatively impact physical and mental health. Finally, there is a risk that relying too heavily on artificial intelligence may perpetuate real-world biases and social inequalities in the virtual world.

Conclusion

The metaverse has the potential to transform public health interventions by modifying the built environment. By providing a virtual space to test, experience and refine interventions, researchers can improve the effectiveness of public health interventions while minimizing the risks associated with large-scale implementation. While there are uncertainties associated with the metaverse, it is important to recognize and address these concerns to ensure that the benefits of this technological innovation are fully realized. As virtual environments become more immersive, it is important to consider how the metaverse can be used to improve public health and promote healthy behaviours. Metaverse marketing may well be the next frontier in promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases.

Zoran Markovic

Zoran Markovic is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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