Using 3D body imaging as a weight management tool

In 2018 Body Aspect completed a project, co-funded by Innovate UK, to explore the use of 3D image capture technology for the purpose of weight management. Part of the project involved a 3D body scanning survey of participants with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. Participants were also asked questions relating to their self-perception at several stages in their weight-loss journeys. The response was positive, and the findings reveal some interesting feedback.

The element of surprise

What is immediately clear is the surprise (or shock) experienced by many of those who viewed their 3D image for the first time. It is likely that many of the participants had observed their body in the mirror hundreds or thousands of times before but seeing the 3D image on the screen provides a new, and more objective, perspective.

For many, there was a clear disconnect between how they had previously perceived their body and the reality as it was. Some participants found they had been too harsh on themselves, and were 'happier with some parts' of their bodies than they anticipated. One participant was pleased to be able to see 'a beautiful woman's body - removed from myself'. For others, it was 'shocking to see the reality' of their bodily appearance, as their self-perception had distanced them from the harsher fact. Although this experience can prove surprising, there is value in this unique way of viewing your body. The 3D image offers a true sense of body size and shape in the way that the tape measure or the weighing scales do not. Interestingly, even those participants who found their scan to be 'much as expected' still reported a level of shock in actually seeing it.

Motivation to succeed

Perhaps the most interesting finding, and certainly the most hopeful in terms of potential use, is how people responded to the experience. Out of 73 participants, every person found the scan to be a positive impact on motivation, with two-thirds rating the exercise as 'very useful' (i.e. rated 5/5). None of the participants found the scan to be detrimental to their motivation, which is encouraging, especially considering that many participants were shocked and disappointed in their results. Many perceived the experience to be a necessary 'wake-up call' to drive them into positive action. Not only did participants 'really want to make a change' after seeing their scans, they also found themselves motivated to 'maintain a healthy eating regime', to 'increase exercise levels' and most importantly 'stick to it this time'. Seeing the scan as a call to action was a common theme in many of the responses, with some referring to it as a 'great motivator', which made them feel 'drummed up to focus on the weight loss programme'. Seeing a physical, unadulterated representation of their bodies - in the form of their 3D image- sparked an unprecedented level of determination to really commit to improving what the scan revealed. This was supported by their anticipation of the next session, with subjects 'looking forward to seeing [themselves] in 3 months' time' and those who were dissatisfied with their scans found themselves encouraged to 'change that next time'.

The precision of the 3D self

Sticking to a healthy lifestyle is one of the most common difficulties faced by people on a weight-management journey, but 3D body imaging provides a useful supporting tool. Firstly, scanning allows people to be aware of the precise proportions and shape that make up their bodies. The images provided a 'unique view' and an 'accurate impression', serving to 'highlight the areas [they] need to work on', with a level of accuracy that is impossible through other methods. The imaging software allows users to observe the shape of their body, and one participant felt hopeful that it would allow them to 'change shape - not necessarily weight - but shape', and to track the process effectively. Secondly, continued 3D imaging allows for more precise awareness of shape change and size reduction. For example, more frequent exercise may lead to less fat and more muscle, but this incremental change may not show up on the scales, however the change in body shape can be easily observed from the 3D images. This helps to maintain motivation, as improvements are more easily observed, and a sense of achievement is more easily obtained.

Some results

Body image changes
Subjects were asked to complete a validated body image questionnaire before the first and second scans. Our findings show that overweight subjects at their first appointment tended to feel dissatisfied with their physical appearance, body shape and weight but not necessarily with their overall attractiveness and looks. For example, participants rated themselves most frequently as the middle-range choice (5/10) for 'looks', with similar numbers for the 'physical attractiveness' category. The most common ratings were substantially lower for 'weight' (1/10), 'size and shape' (2/10) and 'physical appearance' (2/10). Amongst the participants who returned for a second scan, the ratings increased by, on average 0.6 of a point. The biggest increase in rating was reported for looks, physical appearance and size and shape.

Motivation to lose weight
Motivation to lose weight at the start of the process was recorded as 2.8/5. Three months later at the time of the second appointment motivation had increased to 3.5/5, which is encouraging. On average, participants who returned for their second appointment had lost 1.5kg.

Attitudes to healthy eating
Subjects were also asked about their attitudes to diet. On average, while weight-control methods such as drinking plenty of water and monitoring alcohol intake were perceived as most important, monitoring calorie intake and portion size were largely neglected and ranked lowest in priority. By the second appointment, the overall importance of healthy eating had increased, on average, by 0.3 points (on a 5-point scale). The biggest change was seen in eating fruit and vegetables (+0.5) and calorie intake (+0.5).

Usefulness as a method of monitoring size and shape
In terms of monitoring size and shape, participants at their final review appointment were asked to compare the 3D image comparison to other methods. 3D image comparison was scored 4.8/5 compared to photographs (3.3), weighing scales (3.2) and looking in the mirror (3.0).

Overall attitude towards the 3D technology
The view of the scanning process was very positive. The average rating of usefulness was perceived to be 4.6/5. Interestingly, at the second appointment this had dropped slightly to 4.2, which although still positive, may reflect unrealistic expectations. It could be that participants were hoping that the scanning process would provide a magic wand effect creating motivation that they had not found elsewhere. We recognise that 3D body imaging is a useful tool within a holistic process that also includes aspects of diet, exercise and emotional aspects affecting eating habits and choices.
In terms of motivating changes in size and shape, participants at their final review appointment were asked to compare the 3D image comparison to other methods. 3D image capture achieved the top score (4.3/5) compared to Diet/Nutrition plan; Exercise plan; Weigh-ins; family support; slimming clubs and therapy such as CBT.


The project has revealed that much of the value of 3D body imaging lies in its ability to directly motivate change in the lives of participants. The precision of the images allows a true, personal assessment of customers' bodies, allowing them to see which areas need particular attention. One project participant sums up the experience quite succinctly: 'It has acted in a positive way. I am not happy with what I saw, so now am more determined to do something about my weight.'

At Body Aspect, we focus our efforts on helping people reach a goal which is geared towards good health. We provide an empathetic approach to everyone who gets involved with us, by providing a comfortable, emotionally-supportive environment for those who visit. This is hugely important to us, and with this approach, we hope to continue the positive impact that we have observed in this project.

(by Max Randall)

Saturday, December 01, 2018

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