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Text Messaging as a Weight Loss Tool?



Is text messaging the next big weight loss tool? Very possibly. Research has clearly indicated people take better care of their health when they keep track of their eating and exercise habits, and text messaging can function as a modern-day food diary. Researchers at Duke University published a study on texting and weight loss in the online edition of the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2013, which found that tracking health and wellness through text not only saved people time, but potentially made staying with a diet and exercise plan more likely. 


More On the 2013 Study

Duke University researchers studied 50 obese women for six months, with 26 of the women utilizing daily texting as part of the school’s Shape Plan weight-loss intervention. The women lost nearly three pounds each. The other 24 women did not use text messages to help with their weight loss efforts, and gained an average of 2.5 pounds each. The average age of the participants was 38. 

Daily text messages revolved around tips, tailored recommendations such as “no sugary drinks,” and taking 10,000 steps per day, as well as feedback. Participants received text messages every morning from an automated system, such as "Please text yesterday's # of steps you walked, # of sugary drinks, and if you ate fast food." The automated system sent customized feedback based on what the participants replied, as well as a tip. 


The Benefits

Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Duke Obesity Prevention Program and the study’s lead author, remarked that text messaging offered a number of benefits with which other self-monitoring methods cannot compete. Such benefits include the fact that data is easily and quickly entered into a text message compared with other web-based diet and exercise diaries. This ability results in (almost) real-time tracking, portability convenience, and increased personalized feedback. 

Another benefit is the limited number of characters involved with text messaging, which reduces the “detail and cognitive load” traditionally associated with keeping track of exercise and diet. Previous research indicates that long-term health monitoring is lackluster due to time and labor, extensive numeracy and literacy skills, and general burden. 

Study participants noted that texting helped them reach their goals in part because it was so easy. 


More Studies

Other studies concerning text messaging as a weight loss tool came up with similar findings. One study published in the Computers, Informatics, and Nursing journal in 2013 found that participants who utilized text message services lost more weight than those who did not, with texts including motivational messages, healthy snack ideas, and other tips. As with the Duke University study, texting was an interactive process that required participants to text “yes” or “no” regarding whether or not they put the advice into practice. 

Another study looked at text messaging as an “intervention medium” for weight loss, and found that SMS is an informative, encouraging, easy-to-use, affordable tool for managing weight and overall health. The study called for more substantial, randomized trials to determine optimal use for text messaging as a weight loss tool, among other things. 

Will text messaging become synonymous with weight loss? It certainly looks that way...



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