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Teenagers are picky about texting for mHealth

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A study of text messaging designed to influence teens to adopt healthy lifestyles has found that adolescents prefer messages with an active voice that reference teens and recommends specific, achievable behaviors, according to an article in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The 177 teenagers who participated in the study said that messages should come from nutrition professionals delivered as a text at a frequency of two messages or less per day.

As part of the study, conducted by the University of Arizona, test messages and a mobile phone delivery protocol were developed to influence the nutrition and physical activity knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of adolescents. More than 300 messages and a delivery protocol were successfully developed.

"Kids are texting all the time, so it's a communication they're very familiar with and it appeals to them," Melanie Hingle, University of Arizona assistant research professor of nutritional sciences and lead author of the study, said. "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."

Nine focus groups, four classroom discussions, and an eight-week pilot study exploring message content, format, origin, and message delivery were conducted over 12 months using a multistage, youth-participatory approach. Fifty-nine adolescents participated in focus groups, 86 in discussions, and 32 in the pilot study. Eligible teens were 12-18 years old and enrolled in youth programs between fall 2009 and 2010.

The texting study was part of a larger study at the University of Arizona funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture exploring how mobile technology may be used to promote healthy lifestyles for adolescents. Future research should address scalability of texting interventions, and explore dose associated with changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as and offer customized message subscription options, the journal article concluded.

In related news, the National Cancer Institute wants to assess the efficacy of SmokefreeTXT, a text message smoking cessation intervention program designed for smokers aged 18-29. NCI will recruit a large sample of young adult smokers to examine how exposure to the SmokefreeTXT program affects participants' success.

To learn more:
- read the journal abstract

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