Daily texts could help shed those extra pounds

"Text messaging has become ubiquitous," says Dori Steinberg, "and may be an effective method to simplify tracking of diet and exercise behaviors." (Credit: Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

Keeping track of diet and exercise through text messages may help you lose more weight, according to a small study of obese women who received daily texts as part of a weight-loss program.

Research shows that when people keep a written record of their food intake and daily activity, they do better at losing weight. But sticking with detailed monitoring of food consumption and exercise habits electronically or via traditional pen and paper can prove cumbersome. If people stop doing it, they may stop losing weight.


Tracking the information through text messages could save time and improve the likelihood of people sticking with their get-healthy routine.

A new study published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that after six months, 26 obese women who used daily texting as part of the Shape Plan weight-loss intervention lost nearly 3 pounds, while another 24 who followed traditional methods gained 2 1/2 pounds. The average age of participants was 38.

The daily text messages focused on tracking tailored behavioral goals—such as no sugary drinks or 10,000 steps per day—along with brief feedback and tips.

Every morning, participants got a text from an automated system that said, “Please text yesterday’s # of steps you walked, # of sugary drinks, and if you ate fast food.”

Based on how they responded to the text, the automated system sent another text with personalized feedback and a tip.

“Text messaging has become ubiquitous and may be an effective method to simplify tracking of diet and exercise behaviors,” says Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Obesity Prevention Program at Duke University.

Weight tracking via text

Text messaging offers several advantages compared to other self-monitoring methods:

  • Unlike Web-based diet and exercise diaries, data in a text message can be entered quickly on nearly all mobile phone platforms. This provides more portability, nearly real-time tracking and more accessibility for receiving tailored feedback.
  • Previous studies show that long-term adherence to traditional monitoring is poor, possibly because they are time- and labor-intensive, require extensive numeracy and literacy skills, and can be perceived as burdensome.
  • Text messaging has been conventionally limited to about 15-20 words per message, thus reducing the detail and cognitive load that is required for documenting diet and exercise behaviors.

The study primarily focused on helping obese black women lose weight (82 percent of participants were black). That’s because 59 percent of black women are obese, and many use cell phones, researchers say.

This combination makes text messaging a good way to reach this high-risk population.

About half of participants texted every day throughout the six-month program, with 85 percent texting at least two days per week. Most participants reported that texting was easy, and helped them meet their goals.

The key challenge in weight loss is helping people keep weight off for the long-term. So the next step is to see if texting can help people maintain their weight loss, Steinberg says.

“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.”

Source: Duke University