Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October 2006 Volume 17, Number 5
©2006 Gürze Books
Although family-based behavioral interventions are effective, they can be limited by cost, commitment, and commute. In a pilot study, University of North Carolina researchers put modern technology to work with a cell phone text-messaging program designed to improve healthy eating and activity among children 5 to 13 years of age. Fifty-nine families were randomized and 32 participated in the study.
At the beginning of the study, all families completed a packet of self-report measures, had their height and weight measured, and were then randomized to one of three conditions for monitoring their progress. One group used a paper and pen system, the second used text messaging, and the third used no monitoring system. All families then participated in a weekly three-session intervention aimed at helping their children increase physical activity and decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and TV time.
Families assigned to the monitoring conditions (pen and paper or text messaging) continued to monitor the three targeted behaviors for 8 weeks. Families in the pen and paper monitoring group mailed in their monitoring report forms weekly, while those in the automated cell phone group submitted daily inputs about the three targeted behaviors and received automatic feedback messages on their cell phones.
Cell phones worked best
Preliminary results show that the cell phone system was the most effective for following up and enhancing healthy choices among the children. Nearly twice as many families dropped out in the non-monitoring group than in the text messaging system. The dropout rates were 28%, 42%, and 50% for the text-messaging, pen and paper, and no monitoring groups, respectively. This suggested that the cell phone system is a feasible approach to self-monitoring. Jennifer Shapiro, PhD and her colleagues presented the results of their study at the Academy for Eating Disorders meeting in Barcelona, Spain, in June. According to the authors, this pilot study shows that this innovative technological upgrade of a current family-based weight loss intervention may be a useful and cost-effective tool to consider in current treatment programs.