Texting the weight away

By Ann Griswold • Published: February 23rd, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Text messaging often gets a bad rap from teachers and parents, but a new study reveals it may come to the rescue of kids who struggle with weight gain.

About seventeen percent of kids ages six to nineteen are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eating sweets and watching television are two key problems linked to childhood obesity.

Doctors often encourage overweight children to monitor their food intake and television time using paper diaries. But researchers at the University of North Carolina noted the diaries weren’t effective in the long term, so they explored the use of texting as an alternative way to track healthy habits.

The researchers invited sixty children and their parents to participate in a series of educational sessions. The children were then handed pedometers to track their steps and asked to record their progress using cell phones or paper diaries. Each day, the children reported the number of steps taken, sugary drinks consumed and hours of television watched. Children who texted their answers were rewarded with instant, encouraging responses like, “Wow, you met your step and screen time goals– congratulations! What happened to beverages?”

After eight weeks, kids who texted their responses were more likely to keep long-term records of their progress. The researchers say text messaging comes naturally nowadays, as many kids have grown up with the technology. The findings suggest cell phones may be good for more than meets the eye by helping kids text their way to better health.