Teen health data collection via text messaging proves valuable

A pilot conducted by the University of Minnesota supports the feasibility and value of a text messaging assessment delivery system for use with female adolescents, finds an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research's mHealth and uHealth.

"No one communicates by text messaging more than adolescent females 12-17 years old, who average 4,050 texts per month," states the article. "Despite this technological inroad among adolescents, few researchers are utilizing text messaging technology to collect real time, contextualized data. Temporal variables (i.e., mood) collected regularly over a period of time could yield useful insights, particularly for evaluating health intervention outcomes."

As part of the study, the Youth Ecological Momentary Assessment System (YEMAS) was developed to collect automated texted reports of daily activities, behaviors and attitudes among adolescents. The system was created to collect and transfer real time data about individual- and social-level factors that influence physical, mental, emotional and social well-being.

The two-phase study included development of YEMAS and a feasibility pilot with Latino adolescent females. Adolescent Latina youth were sought because they represent the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States. 

The 24 Latina adolescents participating in the study responded to four surveys daily for four weeks total, and each survey had between 12 and 17 questions, with responses including yes/no, Likert scale and open-ended options. According to the authors, retention and compliance rates were high, with nearly 18,000 texts provided by the young women over the course of the pilot period.

"Pilot results support the feasibility and value of YEMAS, an automated SMS-based text messaging data collection system positioned within a secure university environment," concludes the article. "This approach capitalizes on immediate data transfer protocols and enables the documentation of participants' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in real time. Data are collected using mobile devices that are familiar to participants and nearly ubiquitous in developed countries."

In related news, a 2013 study of text messaging designed to influence teens to adopt healthy lifestyles found that adolescents prefer messages with an active voice that reference teens and recommends specific, achievable behaviors. 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, 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.

To learn more:
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