A new study leverages teens’ relationships with cell phones and text messages as a method to enhance health literacy and improve health behaviors.
According to the Nielsen consumer research group, U.S. teens receive an average of 3,417 text messages per month or a whopping 114 texts per day. Teens also have notoriously have poor diets, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that high school students’ consumption of fruit and vegetables is, on average, 1.2 times per day (much lower than the recommended 5 a day).
Given these factors, researchers studied the use of text messages to inform teens about health behaviors.
Investigators studied 177 teens for a one-year period. They discovered that in order to inform and motivate teens, text messages should address the reality of today’s adolescent lifestyles.
Investigators explored teens’ preferences for message content, format, style (or message ”voice”), origin, and frequency and mode of message delivery.
From the pilot test of their healthy lifestyle text messages, researchers found that teens liked an active voice that referenced teens and recommended specific, achievable behaviors sent from nutrition professionals.
According to study’s lead author, Melanie Hingle, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., University of Arizona, “The current consensus is that intervention programs targeting adolescents to combat obesity have limited, short-lived success.
“The majority of traditional approaches employed to date have relied on expert-led fitness and nutrition education programs delivered within the school setting. New approaches are needed to effectively engage teens in age-appropriate, teen-centric, relevant activities that can be sustained beyond traditional health promotion settings.
“The ubiquity of mobile phone use among adolescents offers an engaging, youth-friendly avenue through which to promote healthy behaviors.”
Researchers believe the study confirms that mobile technology can be used to engage adolescents in ”conversations” about health using a familiar communication method – that is, in 160 characters or less.