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Small financial incentives help teenagers with type 1 diabetes better manage blood sugar

Teens with type 1 diabetes can struggle to check blood sugar levels frequently enough once they are more autonomous, but small rewards can make a difference.

Many teenagers with type 1 diabetes struggle to meet their blood sugar goals, partially due to not testing their levels frequently enough in order to balance their insulin dose with food and exercise.

A new study has found that offering very minimal rewards, 10 cents each time they test, made a significant impact on their blood sugar levels.

The research, led by Nancy Petry, a professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington, found that A1C levels, a common measure of longer-term blood sugar control, remained lower for a year after treatment in the teens, according to Reuters.

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For the 12-week study at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, the researchers recruited 10 adolescents, ages 12 to 19, who were finding it difficult to test frequently enough and manage their own treatment.

The teens were given 10 cents each time they test, up to 6 times in one day, and if they tested at least 4 times, they would receive a bonus of up to 50 cents. Before the study, on average the teens were only testing twice a day.

As Reuters reported, the results were pretty significant:

The participants’ average A1C levels fell from 9.3 to 8.4 during the experiment. A common goal for diabetes patients is an A1C level of 7.0 or less. Among the eight teens who were tested one year after the study, the average A1C level was 8.4, suggesting that the health benefits were sustained in the long term.

Petry told Reuters that this type of incentive-based system can help ease tension so kids don’t feel like they are being bothered all of the time to test, and parents can worry less about their child’s levels.

Bethany Raiff, an assistant professor of psychology at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, told Reuters that parents should still monitor levels and not just rely on self-reporting from the teens. She also mentioned that because not everyone can afford to actually pay their kids, there are other options for good incentives, like more time on the computer or staying out later, for example.

During the three-month study, the teens on average ended up bringing in $122.

Photo: Flickr user Voldy Morton