An online game has been found to help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels better.
The US research involved just over 400 military veterans with type 2 diabetes, who had been struggling to maintain good blood glucose control.
They were randomly split into two groups and participated in two different games for six months. One group played a diabetes self-management education (DSME) game and were given a booklet on civics to read. The others took part in a civics education game and were given a booklet on DSME.
The choice of civics as the alternative form of education was intended to be completely unrelated to health so as to test whether the DSME game was more effective than the DSME booklet.
At the beginning of the trial participants had their HbA1c levels measured. There were follow-up readings at six months and 12 months after the veterans had started playing the game.
The findings showed those who had played the DSME game saw their HbA1c drop by 8 mmol/mol (0.7%). The other group experienced an average drop of 5 mmol/mol (0.4%).
The authors wrote: “Among patients with poorly controlled diabetes, the DSME game reduced HbA1c by a magnitude comparable to starting a new diabetes medication.”
Associate professor B. Price Kerfoot, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BMH) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System, said: “We’ve developed an easily scalable intervention that was well accepted among patients and led to sustained improvements in their diabetes control. This game represents a small time commitment for patients, but potentially a big impact for their health.”
The game involved multiple-choice questions related to exercise, glucose management, health complications, medication and diet.
Twice a week two questions were sent to players, who were immediately sent the right answers and an explanation if they got the question wrong. The same questions were repeated several weeks later to ensure the participants had learnt from the first time.
Senior author Dr Paul R. Conli, an endocrinologist and vice chair of the Department of Medicine at BWH and chief medical service at VA Boston Healthcare System, said: “Veterans with diabetes not only learned health information that benefited them but also enjoyed the experience.
“About 89 per cent of participants requested to participate in future programs using this game. This approach could be an effective and scalable method to improve health outcomes for other chronic conditions as well.”
The findings have been published in the Diabetes Care journal.

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