Washington D.C.: Researchers have developed a computer game that can be used to train people to eat less sugar. This could aid in reducing weight and improving health.
"Added sugar is one of the biggest culprits of excess calories and is also associated with several health risks including cancer. For these reasons, eliminating added sugar from a person's diet results in weight loss and reduced risk of disease," wrote lead researcher Forman in the study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
The researchers developed and evaluated a "brain training" game targeting the part of the brain that inhibits impulses with the hope that it would improve diet, specifically by decreasing the consumption of sweet foods.
"Cognitive, or 'brain, training' games have been used to help people reduce unhealthy habits, like smoking. We were also seeing positive results from labs using computer training programs," said Forman.
The game automatically customised 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 randomised 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.
"The workshop helped give participants strategies for following a no-sugar diet. However, we hypothesised that participants would need an extra tool to help manage sweets cravings. The daily training 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," said Forman.
The study also randomised whether participants received a highly gamified (enhanced graphics and sounds) or less-gamified versions of the training.
While the difference between the levels of gamification did not matter, the participants reduced sugar consumption and lost weight, they did find that the few men in the study reacted better to the highly gamified version than the women in the study.