Does Bribing Teens With Type 1 Work?

A study seems to suggest teens who have trouble with diabetes self-care will shed their blood for pay.

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The teenage years can be a tough time for blood sugar control, as parents must slowly cede control of blood sugar testing to teens, who may or may not want the responsibility. This, plus raging hormones, can lead to some soaring A1C scores. Many parents are looking for ways to get teen offspring to take diabetes self-care seriously.

A small study suggests bribing might work. The study, led by Dr. Nancy M. Petry of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and colleagues from the Yale University School of Medicine Pediatric Endocrinology, focused on using monetary rewards to motivate 10 young people with a history of poor blood sugar control to test more often. The test offered $.10 per test for the youths, with bonuses for conducting more than four tests per day.

On average, daily testing went up from 1.8 tests per day to 4.9 tests per day, and 90 percent of participants regularly did four or more tests per day. The findings suggest that monetary motivation is an effective method to inspire some young people to improve their diabetes self-care. For just $10 a week, parents can entice their children to test more often; that $10 is a much lower price-tag than the costs of hospital stays and long-term complications. Of course, the hope is that more testing will lead to better overall choices in diabetes self-care among teens.

The study was tiny, involving just 10 participants, so the findings of such a study can only be categorized as preliminary. A good next step might be for researchers to expand this study to include more participants to see if the results are the same.

While some parents may understandably balk at bribing teens to take care of themselves, others might find $10 a week a good price for reinforcing a vital habit in diabetes self-care.

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Justin Surgent served as an assistant editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. Previously, he was a photo editor and copy editor for UMass Amherst’s independent newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.