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. 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.
The GOPC uses their Virtual Population Obesity Prevention (VPOP) Laboratories to develop computational simulation models of communities, cities, and regions that allow decision makers (e.g., policy makers, funders, public health officials, school officials, and business professionals) to better understand and address the various systems contributing to obesity and affecting diet, physical activity, and metabolism. The virtual laboratories can save considerable time, effort, and resources by allowing decision makers to first test hypothetical interventions and policies within the safety of a computer before implementing in real life (think “SimCity” for obesity prevention and control).
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 Baltimore, New York City, Mexico City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Each model includes geospatially explicit virtual representations of each person and relevant locations (e.g., household, schools, physical activity locations such as gyms, parks, and recreation centers, and food sources such as grocery stores, fast food restaurants, corner stores, and sit-down restaurants).
Every simulated day the virtual people move around their communities, perform daily activities and make decisions about their diet and physical activity. The virtual people, like real people, can gain and lose weight depending on how many calories they consume and expend.
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 of crime on African American women's physical activity and obesity?
- 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