Teens and young adults with diabetes may do a better job of checking their blood sugar when they get daily financial incentives than when there’s no cash on the line, a recent experiment suggests.
Researchers tested out the potential for money to motivate young people to test blood sugar daily by offering $60 a month up front and then subtracting $2 for each day a participant didn’t follow through on required testing. For three months, researchers randomly selected 90 teens and young adults to get these cash incentives or no reward at all.
Overall, the youth with money at stake met their daily blood sugar testing goals half of the time, while without rewards, participants only met their testing goals 19 percent of the time.
“The intervention was designed for the teenage brain, as it provided short-term monetary rewards for health behaviors,” said IHPI member Dr. Joyce Lee, author of an accompanying editorial and a researcher at the U-M Medical School in Ann Arbor.
“However, the study did not necessarily translate to better controlled blood sugar in the long-term,” Lee said by email. “Checking blood sugars is important for diabetes care, but taking insulin is also really important and the study did not incentivize behavior related to insulin dosing.”
That doesn’t mean there is no place for behavioral economics in trying to motivate teens to take charge of their health, Lee said. The idea of loss aversion, or offering a prize that can go away, may have potential to get youth to meet testing goals.
“This study shows that there are new opportunities to “nudge” healthy behaviors teens with in type 1 diabetes using connected diabetes devices and mobile technology,” Lee added. “But I would caution parents that we need more studies to determine the long-term efficacy of these behavioral economics interventions.”