Virtual Reality: The New Frontier in Dietetics?

You’ve probably heard about virtual reality, or VR, but have you experienced it? Up until a few months ago, I was one of those people who hadn't. I had my first VR experience when I was asked to create content for FNCE by filming in a grocery store with a 360-degree camera. 

Going from something familiar like a point-and-shoot to something that covers everything around me was challenging. I had to get used to being aware of not just what I was filming, but the little things like my feet being in a shot or the person walking beside me in the grocery store. After working around these challenges, the camera became easy to use.

The real fun came when it was time to edit and watch my content. With a special set of goggles — I used an affordable cardboard brand — I was immersed into the virtual world. When I looked up, left or right, I could see what was around me at the time of recording. It was as if I was back at the grocery store again. It felt very much like reality.

Practical Use of VR

Virtual reality is fun, but is it practical? The answer is yes! Most of my filming was in a grocery store, and the technology would be perfect to give grocery store “tours” for clients unable to go to a store, helping them to have a better understanding of what it’s like to select healthier options in the store. VR also can be used as a tool for cooking demonstrations. Watching someone cook food on TV or the internet is one thing, but being immersed into a virtual reality where you feel as though you’re the one cooking would make techniques and ingredients easier to understand. Lastly, both client and dietitian can benefit from use of VR in private practice. Instead of doing a 24-hour recall or even a food diary, dietitians can ask clients to record their meals, from purchasing and preparing to cooking and eating. This would give RDNs an immersive, firsthand experience and a better understanding of their clients’ daily lives.

The Future of Dietetics

Finally, VR also could be the next step in training future RDNs. This could be extremely beneficial in the clinical setting. For example, most dietetics students have seen pictures or videos of how to insert PEG tubes or TPN IVs, but what about doing it firsthand? For pre-internship students, VR can help with familiarity of what to do before doing it in person. This would greatly increase dietetic interns’ confidence in their abilities.

Virtual reality is a tool we can use in dietetics to benefit students, RDNs and clients alike. Whether it be simply learning a new way of teaching or gaining a better understanding of clients, VR is the way of the future and the possibilities are endless.

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EJ Otto
EJ Otto is a graduate of LaSalle University with a BSN in Nutrition, and an Ingredient Regulatory Technical Writer for Campbell's Soup Company.