A computer game can rescue those struggling to overcome their sugar addiction to shed weight and boost health.

The brain-training game targeted the part of the brain that inhibits impulses by making players moving quickly through a grocery store while putting healthy food items in a grocery cart, and avoiding high sugar foods. Points are awarded for placing healthy items in a cart.

Playing the game helped at least half of the 109 overweight participants, who liked eating sweets, lose as much as 3.1% of their body weight over a period of eight weeks. The study, called Computerized Neurocognitive Training for Improving Dietary Health and Facilitating Weight Loss, was published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine in March 2019,

Those who were a part of the study also indicated that they found the daily training satisfactory, that it became part of their daily routine and that they wished to continue the trainings if they were available.

According to nutritional experts, excessive consumption of foods high in added sugars and fat can lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardio vascular diseases, and certain types of cancers. It can also hamper any effort to reduce body weight.

“High sugar and fatty foods can cause cholesterol and triglycerides to rise, hence heart diseases. It will later on add to the sugar levels that may cause insulin fluctuations,” says Neha Arora, Delhi-based nutrition expert.

Such games have been used to help people reduce unhealthy habits such as smoking.

“It’s a part of the overarching cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) of which one of the types is computerized CBT. The idea is to correct your thinking process (cognitive) by using a computer-based tool. It’s all a part of the mobile health therapy that people are building on, for which you need to visit a doctor physically,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, professor, psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

Some experts advise caution. “It can work as you are trying to remove an addiction by providing an alternative. However, we also need to see how healthy is this approach in the long run as there is a risk of getting hooked to the computer game itself that again is not healthy,” says Delhi-based psychiatrist Pulkit Sharma.

“It should actually be seen as an add on, and the real way of getting rid of any addiction is by getting motivated from within to give it up,” he adds.