Txt4health raises awareness of diabetes risks

2/21/2014, 8:13 a.m.

Could texting be good for your health?

New University of Michigan research says text messages on your phone may help decrease your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

A majority of people enrolled in txt4health, a customized texting service that was piloted in Detroit and Cincinnati last year, said the free mobile education program made them more aware of their diabetes risk and more likely to make diet-related behavior changes and lose weight.

While only 39 percent of participants stuck through all 14 weeks of the study, the program worked well for them.

The findings appear in two new studies published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports.

Lorraine R. Buis, lead author of both studies and an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the university’s Medical School, said researchers found that the mobile method of health intervention had great reach and potential to significantly influence health habits.

“It’s clear that a text message program may not be appropriate for everyone; however, for a large subset of people, this may be a feasible, acceptable, and useful strategy to motivate positive behavior changes,” she said.

Most participants reported that after completing the program, they were more likely to replace sugary drinks with water (78 percent); have a piece of fresh fruit instead of dessert (74 percent); substitute a small salad for chips or fries when dining out (76 percent); buy healthier foods when grocery shopping (80 percent); and eat more grilled, baked, or broiled foods instead of fried (76 percent).

The majority of respondents also reported that texts were easy to understand (100 percent) and that the program made them knowledgeable of their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes (88 percent) and more aware of their dietary and physical activity habits (89 percent). Eighty-eight percent also said they enjoyed participating in the program.

The txt4health initiative is a large, public health-focused, text message-based program that aims to raise Type 2 diabetes risk awareness as well as facilitate weekly weight and physical activity self-monitoring to lower diabetes risk.

Researchers enrolled 1,838 participants in the program who were asked to answer background questions to get personalized health tips and recommendations over 14 weeks. Roughly 74 percent completed the diabetes risk assessment, 89 percent tracked their weight, and 55 percent reported their physical activity at least once during the program.

“Text message programs may be a useful tool when used as a component in a broad-based public health campaign,” Buis said.

For more information, visit http://dph.georgia.gov.