A 14-week text messaging program helped dozens of people in a pilot study become more aware of their diabetes risk and make healthier dietary choices, according to new research.
The pilot was part of the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, a federally funded initiative to strengthen health information technology use in 17 communities across the country. Today in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers reported results from Detroit and Cincinnati.
Their findings are based on survey responses from 161 participants who completed the 14-week texting program, known as txt4health. Participants received messages on their cell phones offering a type 2 diabetes risk assessment and weekly messages with tips to reduce their risk. Nearly one-third of the participants had a history of diabetes. About half were obese and almost one-third were overweight. Their mean age was 42.4 years, about three-fourths were women, and the group was evenly split between black and white individuals.
At the pilot’s end, 83.2% of participants said they used the program to set physical activity goals, and 60% of those individuals met their goals all or most of the time. About two-thirds reported setting weight loss goals; 25.7% said they met those goals all or most of the time. About half said the program had helped them lose weight.
Participants said the program also helped them to choose healthier foods. About three-fourths said they were more likely to replace sugary drinks with water; have a piece of fruit instead of dessert; substitute a small salad for chips or fries when dining out; buy healthier foods at the grocery store; and eat more grilled, baked, or broiled dishes instead of fried foods.
In addition, all or most of the participants said the text messages were easy to understand and that the program boosted their knowledge about their own risks for diabetes and increased their awareness about their dietary and physical activity habits.
“Text message programs may be a useful tool when used as a component in a broad-based public health campaign,” lead author Lorraine Buis, PhD, of the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a statement.
But she also noted that only 39% of the 1838 individuals who were fully enrolled in txt4health stuck through all 14 weeks. “Sole reliance on this strategy may be cautioned when targeting a general population because the level of individual engagement varies widely,” Buis added.