Teenagers love texting--to report health information

Teenagers love text messaging--maybe a little too much. But new research finds it's actually a useful tool for assessing the health behavior of adolescents in real-time, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In a study featured in the journal, 60 teenagers were equipped with smartphones that included unlimited text messaging and data for 30 days. Applications preinstalled on the phones were related to asthma, obesity, human immunodeficiency virus, and diet.

The purpose of the study was to "understand the health information needs of adolescents in the context of their everyday lives and to assess how they meet their information needs." What researchers found was that the teenagers in the study were willing to use text messaging to report their health information.

Participants in the study, who ranged from 13 to 18 years of age, received text messages three times per week and were asked ecological momentary assessment questions that resulted in a 90 percent response rate. The teenagers sent a total of 421 text messages related to their health information needs, and 516 text messages related to the source of information to the answers of their questions, which were related to parents, friends, online, mobile apps, teachers, or coaches.

"Findings from this study contribute to the evidence base on addressing the health information needs of adolescents," study authors concluded. "In particular, attention should be paid to issues related to diet and exercise. These findings may be the harbinger for future obesity prevention programs for adolescents."

Although there has been a "dearth of research on adolescents' use of text messaging for managing their own health," their health behaviors are still not well understood.

"While past studies have demonstrated the use of text messaging for delivering reminders to promote healthy behavior choices, these studies have been limited to parents' use of this tool for managing their children's health," study authors note. "In contrast this study provided preliminary evidence for the acceptability of the use of text messaging for adolescents managing their own health care. Moreover, our study demonstrated that adolescents are willing to use this technology and report on their own health questions in context of their daily lives."

Nevertheless, while adolescents are interested in using apps and features on their phones, the mHealth language and interface needs to be tailored for teenager use, according to the authors; specifically, the user interface and developing tools should meet the literacy needs of underserved and high-risk adolescents.

In related news, 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.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:
- read the JMIR article