Scientists create training game to divert consumers from sugar

Researchers with Drexel University created a game designed to train adults on making better food choices when it comes to added sugar. American adults consume too much sugar and that's a major health risk, but not everyone has the awareness or willpower necessary to make better choices. The new game works by presenting players with a variety of food and household products, requiring them to make quick decisions about what they keep and discard.

Consuming too much sugar comes with a number of health risks, including an increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Sugar is an added ingredient in a huge number of prepared, processed food products, however, including items that may not be obvious, such as packaged bread. Busy consumers trying to wrap up shopping as quickly as possible may not take the time to analyze ingredient lists.

The game is part of a study recently published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, which determined that a so-called brain training game can improve players' diets. The game targets the part of the brain linked with inhibiting impulses, making this a 'gamified inhibitory control training' tool intended to reduce sugar consumption.

The game is called "Diet DASH," and it was created by students with the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel. The game would automatically customize itself to the specific sugary products each participant favored, dynamically changing the difficulty level to stay synced with the player's ability to resist tempting treats.

The study's participants were tasked with playing the game for 'a few minutes' daily over the course of six weeks, followed by once per week for two weeks. The game's goal is for the player to move through a grocery store as fast as possible while putting the right foods in their cart and dismissing bad foods.

More than half of the players ultimately lost up to 3.1-percent of their body weight over those eight weeks, reporting satisfaction from playing the game and a desire to continue the training. Psychology professor Evan Forman, the study's lead, explained:

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.