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Texting Effective Weight-Loss Intervention, Study Says

November 18, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Tracking diet and exercise habits through text message interventions may improve the likelihood of people getting healthier than traditional methods, according to a recent study from researchers at Duke University.

The researchers looked at 50 obese women who either received daily texts for weight-loss intervention or used traditional methods like food journals on paper and over the computer. After six months, the 26 women who used the text messages lost an average three points, while 24 women who used traditional methods actually gained 2 ½ pounds.

The text messages, researchers say, focused on tracking tailored behavioral goals such as no sugary drinks and 10,000 steps per day. An automated text message would ask them to give the number of steps they walked or sugary drinks they had, and when they answered, it would send back personalized feedback and a tip.

Researchers focused on helping obese black women lose weight (82 percent of participants were black). They say this is because 59 percent of black women are obese, and many use cell phones. They believe this makes text messaging a good way to reach this high-risk population. Similar pilots were conducted in Cincinnati and Boston, through the Beacon Community and Center for Connected Health respectively, using text-message interventions to engage underserved populations.

"Text messaging has become ubiquitous and may be an effective method to simplify tracking of diet and exercise behaviors," stated lead author Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Duke Obesity Prevention Program. "Given the increasing utilization of mobile devices, text messaging may be a useful tool for weight loss, particularly among populations most in need of weight-loss treatment.”

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