How to effectively use SMS for teen weight loss

By Chris Gullo

A new study of overweight teens published in the journal Obesity reveals the most effective ways text messages could be used to encourage healthy behavior change in adolescents, reports the LA Times.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, who believe tailored text messages could help teens adopt healthier lifestyle changes. Four focus groups consisting of 24 male and female teens in weight management programs were sent six different message types: testimonials, meal and recipe ideas, targeted tips, reflective questions, feedback questions and tailored messages.

The teens responded well to instructional messages from peers, including recipes and testimonials about weight-loss strategies. Positive messages were also well-received, including exclamations and emoticons, but colloquialisms like "LOL" were not.

Other negative response came from the mention of unhealthy food and behavior, even with references to healthier options; Teens began to crave unhealthy foods after being asked about them. Reflective questions, like "What does being healthy mean for you? How does screen time fit in with your goals? How could cutting back on it help improve your health?" were also ineffective. Concrete directions about achieving weight-loss and eating healthier were preferred. Researchers thought the delivery method (140 character texts) might be to blame.

The researchers are now exploring whether these preferred messages are effective at reducing weight. Previous studies have revealed that SMS reminders are effective at smoking cessation and flu vaccine adoption, but not birth control. The effectiveness of Text4Baby is a still topic of much discussion.

For more on the study, read the L.A. Times article here.