Few African American parents share health info via texting

Though mobile technology has the potential to bridge the digital divide and reduce health disparities among racial/ethnic groups, a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has found that African American parents are less likely to use mHealth for accessing or communicating health information.

The objective of the study was to determine mobile and Internet technology use by African American parents in an urban, underserved population, and to assess their interest in receiving health information via text messaging or other technologies. A survey was given to parents of children aged 1-12 years, primarily single mothers, covered by public insurance receiving care at three pediatric primary care centers in Washington, D.C.

"Mobile technology and social networks may be an underutilized method of providing health information to underserved minority populations," the article finds, also noting that most parents surveyed did express an interest in receiving health information or utilizing social networking to learn more about health topics.

Despite the fact that relatively few African American mothers (17.9 percent) shared health information via texting, there was strong interest in receiving health information via mobile phones (87.4 percent). In addition, the survey results indicate that there was no significant difference in Internet/mobile device use or interest in using these technologies to send/receive information about their children's health between parents of healthy children and parents of children with chronic health conditions.

"National surveys suggest minority parents frequently communicate via mobile technology, but it is uncertain how amenable they are to receiving health care information in this format," states the article. "Although the low cost and far reach characteristics of mobile health technology makes it advantageous for communication with minority parents, data on acceptance are needed."

Survey results from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project in 2012 revealed that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to own a smartphone, with 49 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of African Americans, and 42 percent of whites owning these mobile devices.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of infant mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV infection/AIDS, cancer and lower rates of immunizations and cancer screening. African Americans, in particular, have the highest prevalence of diabetes and the highest rate of adult obesity compared to any other racial/ethnic group.  

A Duke University study published in November found that daily text messaging may be a useful self-monitoring tool for weight control, particularly among racial/ethnic minority populations most in need of intervention. The purpose of the randomized controlled pilot study was to evaluate the feasibility of a text messaging intervention for weight loss among predominantly black women, who "have alarmingly high rates of obesity as compared with other gender and racial/ethnic groups," according to the article.

The average daily text messaging adherence rate was 49 percent with 85 percent texting self-monitored behavioral goals two or more days per week. Moreover, about 70 percent strongly agreed that daily texting was easy and helpful and 76 percent felt the frequency of texting was appropriate. 

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