Video Games Help Children Manage Diabetes

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • The gaming industry is big business amounting to about $1.4 billion. So is healthcare - and more specifically the diabetes management segment where testing amounts to a $7 billion a year market.


    What happens when the two partner up?


    That's what Bayer Labs wants to check out and see with its Didget blood glucose meter and its partner online game. Didget is a blood glucose meter that syncs directly with Nintendo DS (the Gameboy's upgraded version) and into an online adventure game called "Knock 'em Downs World Fair." The tester earns points for testing the prescribed number of times per day and also by staying within targeted BG levels (which are programmable). Didget and the game target kids with diabetes who are between the ages of 4 and 14. An online demo is available, but neither myself nor my son could get it to work.

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    Didget and its game are the brainchild of Paul Wessel, whose son Luke has Type 1 Diabetes. Like so many young children who are given with the daunting task of pricking their fingers at least six times a day to test their blood, Luke figured out ways to avoid the chore - namely hiding his BG monitor. His father noted that while Luke loathed his BG meter, he loved his Nintendo GameBoy. And so an idea was born: what about a video game that would reward Type 1 kids for every drop of blood they drew?


    Didget was the result. The German-based pharmaceutical giant Bayer purchased Wessel's product and related company and then asked him to come on board to launch it, which it did in the UK last year. The U.S. version launched this month.

    In conjunction with the online game will be an online gaming community (a la Club Penguin). This password protected community will allow kids to earn points for consistent testing and then redeem these points in the game and also to unlock games within the games. One big benefit to such a community is that it brings together kids who are all managing Type 1.


    The Downsides
    As wonderful as this tool is by making BG testing fun, there are viable arguments against it:


    Chasing numbers: Will the child be so excited to test that he'll actually go overboard and test so much that he'll be chasing BG numbers. But maybe that's a problem some parents may want to have.

    Encouraging kids to be sedentary? A long-standing argument is that video games encourage kids to not get up and move, but rather to sit and play. Exercise and movement are a big part of a diabetes management plan, so this argument holds some water. However, getting in the habit of testing regularly likewise has merit.

    Lowering Reimbursement: As backwards as it sounds, third-party insurers often don't offer reimbursement for items that are prevention oriented, so there has been some concern that the meter will not be fully reimbursed by some insurers.


    The Business Side
    There are few interesting business side stories going on with Didget. First, it may help Bayer reclaim some of the market share that it's lost in the diabetes management market. The company created the first blood glucose monitor in the early ‘70s and was a powerhouse in the market for two decades. But by 2005, Bayer's share had been pared back to only 10%, with Roche and J&J seizing 25% of share a piece.


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    One of the reasons that Bayer is betting on the diabetes market is because it only promises to get bigger and bigger in coming years, with incidences of Type 1 and Type 2 reaching epidemic proportions. A growing part of this market is children, who are the ideal target for a BG-testing video game.


    Secondly, Didget represents the growing push by Big Pharma to find and launch ideas that are more patient-centric. iPhone apps are the Goliath in this area. Think of the winner of Amy Tendrich's Diabetes Mine Contest last year.


    Didget retails at $74.99 (including monitor and game) and can be found at:


    As with many things, time will tell if Didget and its related games will be successful. For parents who are at their wits ends trying to get their kids to test, this may seem like manna from heaven.


Published On: May 18, 2010