Consumption of added sugar is often linked to diabetes and lifestyle-related diseases. Scientists found an innovative way to train the brain to eat less sugar.

A "brain training game" developed and evaluated by experts from the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia could help solve the problem of sugar cravings.

'Diet DASH' Can Curb Temptations For Sweets

Some 109 individuals who were overweight and ate sweets participated in a randomized trial of the cognitive training game that targets the part of the brain that inhibits impulses. The scientists hoped that the game would help improve the diet of participants, specifically by decreasing their consumption of sweet foods.

In the Diet DASH computer-based game developed by digital media students from Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, players navigate a grocery store and earn rewards for choosing healthy food options. Like in other famous DASH games, the player must move as quickly as possible. The player would get points for picking the correct foods or healthy foods while refraining from the incorrect foods or their preferred sweets in the grocery store.

The trial lasted for a total of eight weeks — the participants played the game on a computer for a few minutes every day for six weeks and once a week for two weeks.

The game automatically customized the training to focus on the sweets that each participant tended to eat. The game difficulty also adjusted depending on how well the gamers resisted the temptation of sweets. The game training strengthened the part of the brain to resist the impulse to eat sweets.

Based on the study, as a result of playing the game daily, over half of the participants who initially had a higher preference for sugary foods lost as much as 3.1 percent of their body weight after daily gameplay.

Pre-Game Workshop And Brain Training

Before playing the game, the participants underwent a workshop to help them strategize methods on how to follow a no-sugar diet and which foods to avoid. They were also informed about the detrimental effects and health risks of consuming too much sugar and sweets.

"The study's findings offer qualified support for the use of a computerized cognitive training to facilitate weight loss," said  Evan Forman, Ph.D., a psychology professor in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences.

The research is the first to probe the impact of "highly personalized and/or gamified inhibitory control training" on weight loss using repeated, at-home trainings.

More than half of adults in the United States consume excess added sugars, and many researchers believe that sugar increases diabetes risk both directly and indirectly. This brain game may help address the rising cases of diabetes and pre-diabetes. An estimated 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drexel's WELL Center is currently conducting a new trial featuring the highly gamified version of the Diet DASH that targets male participants.

The study is published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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