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Putting Computer Gaming Screen Time To Good Use

It’s almost impossible to pry some people – especially youngsters – away from their phone, computer and tablet screens. But now researchers at Drexel Uniersity have discovered a way to put that screen time to good use – training game players to eat less added Sugar…

Diet DASH Game Screen - © Drexel UniversityThis grainy screen shot is the only image we have from the Diet Dash game.
Looks as though it was developed for play on phones…

Computer training programs have proliferated over the past 20 years. And experience has shown its the ones structured like games that have the highest success rate. Researchers wanted to see if they could apply the technique to helping obese people learn to consume less added Sugar.

“Added sugar is one of the biggest culprits of excess calories and is also associated with several health risks including cancer,” said study report Lead Author Dr. Evan Forman, who also leads the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science (WELL Center) at Drexel.

What they did

Forman’s team worked with instructors and digital media students at the university’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design to create a ‘game’ they thought would train players to eat less added Sugar.

Called ‘Diet DASH’ for purposes of the study, the game automatically customized the training to focus on the sweets that each participant tended to eat and adjusted the difficulty according to how well they were resisting the temptation of sweets.

The trial randomized 109 participants who were overweight and ate sweets. Participants attended a workshop prior to starting the game to help them understand why sugar is detrimental to their health and to learn which foods to avoid and methods for doing so. Then they played a game in  which they ‘filled’ a digital grocery cart with ‘healthy’ foods while leaving ‘unhealthy’ foods on the shelves. Their choices determined how effective the game was in changing their preferences. Participants in the study played the game a few minutes every day for six weeks

What they found

For over half of the participants, who showed higher preferences toward sweets, playing the game helped them lose as much as 3.1 percent of their body weight over eight weeks. Participants also indicated that they found the daily training satisfactory, that it became part of their daily routine and that they wished to continue the trainings if they were available.

The takeaway

“The workshop helped give participants strategies for following a no-sugar diet. However, we hypothesized that participants would need an extra tool to help manage sweets cravings,” Forman explained. “The daily trainings could make or break a person’s ability to follow the no-added sugar diet. They strengthen the part of your brain to not react to the impulse for sweets.”

“The study’s findings offer qualified support for the use of a computerized cognitive training to facilitate weight loss,” said Forman. “

My take

One reviewer of the Drexel Sugar Reduction game called it ‘Luminosity for your sweets cravings’. Okay, I’ll buy that. And I’m especially interested to hear that hard-core fatties with a taste for Sweets found the training so satisfactory that many wanted to continue playing the game after the study wound up. I’m also glad that researchers emphasized that the game and workshop combo was just part of an overall ‘healthy eating’ program administered to the study participants. But I wholeheartedly endorse any effort such as the Diet DASH game which might help overeaters and obese people learn to eat better long-term.

Will the Diet Dash appear soon for free on an on line source near you? Researchers didn’t say… I’d like to see that, too, along with doctors ‘prescribing’ the workshop and game for their obese patients…

~ Maggie J.