Text Messaging May Prevent Teens From Gaining Weight
Text messaging has become a way of life for many people. While many say text messaging can kill, especially if texting while driving, a new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that sending text messages may help fight off a child’s chance at becoming obese or overweight later in life by monitoring and modifying their own behaviors now.
“Self-monitoring of calorie intake and expenditure and of body weight is extremely important for the long-term success of weight loss and weight control,” said Jennifer R. Shapiro, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and principal investigator of the new study. “Unfortunately, both children and adults who are trying to lose weight often do not adhere to self-monitoring. They tend to be good about self-monitoring at the start of a weight-loss effort, but then their adherence drops off over time.”
Studies have shown that writing down what you eat greatly helps some people lose weight. Shapiro and her colleagues took that a step further and wondered if the same theory could be applied to text messaging.
“Cell phone text messaging is something that’s very familiar to most children now, since they’ve grown up with it,” Shapiro said. “By using this technology, we were hoping to make self-monitoring seem more like fun to them and less like work.”
The participants in Shaprio’s study included fifty-eight children aged 5 to 13 and their parents. Each family was given three group education sessions lasting three weeks total in which they were encouraged to increase physical activity, decrease television time and lower their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The families were separated into three groups: one that reported self-monitoring via cell phone text messaging, another group that reported self-monitoring in a paper diary, and a no-monitoring control group. The text messaging and paper diary groups answered three questions each day: (1) what was the number on your pedometer today?; (2) how many sugar-sweetened beverages did you drink today?; and (3) how many minutes of screen time did you have today?
Each participant in the text messaging group was given a cell phone to be used only for the study. They had to send two messages per day (one from the parent and one from the child) reporting back their answers to the three questions. Based on their answers, each text message sent was responded quickly with an automated feedback message such as “Wow, you met your step and screen time goals – congratulations! What happened to beverages?”
The results showed that 28 percent of the children in the text messaging group had a lower attrition rate from the study, compared with the paper diary (61 percent) and the control group (50 percent).
The study concluded that text messaging on a cell phone could very well be a useful tool for self-monitoring healthy behaviors in children.