Study: Texting Can Influence Healthy Eating Habits in Teens

In recent weeks, ample media coverage has been directed toward the countless ways in which mHealth services, tools, and resources can be used to benefit the young as well as the aging.

Although news in the mHealth space generally revolves around advancements in medical care for the elderly, ill, and immobile, the findings of a new University of Arizona study chronicled in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior point to the benefits of mobile technology in improving the health and wellness of young mobile device users.

The stated objective of the study was to develop and test messages and a mobile phone delivery protocol designed to influence the nutrition and physical activity knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of adolescents.

Of the 177 teenagers who participated in the study, the majority expressed interest in messages that originated from nutrition professionals. They were generally willing to receive tips and other counsel regarding healthy dieting and lifestyle choices.

“Youth preferred messages with an active voice that referenced teens and recommended specific, achievable behaviors,” a summary of the report reads, noting that messages should come as a text message at a frequency of two or fewer messages per day.

“Kids are texting all the time, so it’s a communication they’re very familiar with and it appeals to them,” says study author Melanie Hingle of the University of Arizona. “But we realized very quickly once we got down to the actual development of the messages that we didn’t know the first thing about what kind of tone or information kids would be interested in.”

The study involved nine focus groups, four classroom discussions, and an 8-week pilot study exploring message content, format, origin, and message delivery. All tests were conducted over a 12 month period using a “multistage, youth-participatory approach.”

The University of Arizona continues to use funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine how mobile technologies can be better used to promote healthy eating and lifestyle habits among youth.

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