People in the Know: Video Games and Blood Sugar

Q: Can playing video games cause high blood sugar? My 12-year-old son got a new game console, and I’ve started to notice that his blood sugar rises somewhat dramatically when he plays.

A: By their very design, video games are meant to be exciting. This is a big part of why they’re so appealing, but also a big part of why kids with type 1 who play pulse-pounding games sometimes end up with high blood sugar readings.

When we get excited, our bodies are wired to respond by increasing output of certain stress hormones, including adrenaline. In turn, adrenaline triggers the liver to release stored glycogen for use as glucose. This is simply part of our innate “fight or flight” response. However, when people have type 1 diabetes, extra glucose suddenly flooding the bloodstream can produce a high blood sugar reading.

To limit any effects of video games on your child’s blood sugar, it’s important to remember that moderation is key. Playing a video game for half an hour probably won’t do much to blood sugar levels, but a marathon session in front of the screen may be a different story. Your diabetes educator will likely have specific feedback on this issue, but for general guidance, a good rule of thumb is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice to limit screen time for children in your son’s age group to no more than one to two hours per day.

To stick to this rule, it’s often helpful to move the video game system into a more “public” part of your home, such as the living room or den, instead of allowing your child to keep the console in his bedroom. The more visible your child is when playing, the easier it is for you to control when the game is turned off. Some parents also decide to save video game time as a special reward for completing chores and homework or to recognize other good behavior.

Another reason to limit excessive video game play? In the long run, too much screen time of any kind creates a more sedentary lifestyle, which can present further challenges to good blood sugar control. Getting a high score in a video game is one kind of thrill, but the bigger prize to stay focused on is helping your child with diabetes create a lifestyle that is both healthy and balanced.

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—Awilda Valdes, R.N., C.D.E., is a diabetes nurse clinician in the division of endocrinology at Miami Children’s Hospital.

How Other Parents Deal

“We put in place two rules for our 7-year-old daughter: one hour maximum of screen time a day and only one screen at a time. If she wants to play games on the tablet, then the TV must be shut off. If she wants to watch a show, the tablet gets put away first. This has really helped screen time become more of a special activity and not just something that’s always right there all day long. Besides, I really want to see her active and running around with her friends in the neighborhood, not sitting on the couch.”

—Chelsea C., Saginaw, Mich., mom of 7-year-old Arienne

Related topics:
In the Spotlight: Sports and Type 1 Diabetes
People in the Know: Practices Versus Games
People in the Know: Easing into Exercise

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.