Kids with diabetes can get Nintendo points for testing blood sugar

By Fran Kritz
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Monitoring blood glucose levels is key to managing diabetes. But when children have the disease, it's often hard to get them to cooperate.

"Kids are often resistant to testing because it takes them away from other activities, sets them apart from kids who don't have diabetes. And skin pricking can be a nuisance," says Fran Cogen, director of the Child/Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children's National Medical Center. Cogen says she frequently advises parents to consider incentives such as an iTunes download.

Now there's another incentive: a higher level in Nintendo. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Bayer HealthCare's Didget, a blood-sugar meter that can connect with the Nintendo DS and DS Lite gaming systems. Kids who test their blood sugar as prescribed by their doctor get access to higher levels in certain games as well as entry into a "diabetes world" where they can communicate with other gamers who have the condition.

The actual meter is no different than most others on the market, and, at about $75, costs about the same. (This doesn't include the Nintendo system, likely to cost more than $100.) Users prick a finger with a lancet and then transfer a drop of blood to a treated test strip. The strip is inserted in the meter, which gives a blood glucose level, enabling caregivers to adjust insulin dosages if necessary.

Cogen and Lori Laffel, head of pediatric diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, caution against punishing children for not testing. They also remind parents not to reward kids for a specific blood glucose level -- other medical factors, such as a cold, could affect that number. The doctors also warn that children shouldn't be allowed to over-test just to earn the incentive. "We want diabetes to fit into a child's life, and not make it an all-consuming activity," Cogen says.

The Didget system appears to answer these concerns. Points are awarded for staying within ranges, not for reaching specific numbers, and no additional points are given after a child has tested four times in a 24-hour period, a common goal set by physicians.

Kritz, a freelance writer, lives in Silver Spring.

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