Studies show text messages can improve health

AdTaxi-PharmAdv-TextAlerts1While continually texting teenagers may be annoying to many parents, texting for health may be just what the doctor ordered. New research shows that health-related text alerts can help prevent type 2 diabetes, remind people to take their meds, help them quit smoking, and more.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans use cell phones and the vast majority send text messages. In fact, many people actually prefer texting to talking. It’s a simple, fast and efficient way to communicate. But how can it improve health?

Texting for health
A recently completed three-year study in India looked at the impact text messages could have on diabetes onset. More than 500 participants were enrolled in the randomized, controlled study that was registered with the National Institutes of Health and funded by the World Diabetes Foundation. The result? Ten percent fewer men in the text messaging group developed diabetes.

In another study, researchers in Irvine, California, wanted to see if medication adherence would improve if reminder text messages were sent to patients with chronic conditions. It did improve. Members opting into the text message reminder program took their meds more consistently compared with those who did not receive such reminders.

A comprehensive review study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association further substantiated that electronic alerts help people stay on top of taking their meds. The review looked at 13 studies that analyzed whether or not electronic reminders were helpful. All but one showed that people were better at taking their meds when they were reminded. Given that as many as 50 percent of people don’t take their medications as prescribed, the findings are a huge step toward helping people to better manage their illnesses.

Kick bad habits, get new ones
Text messages can also be a catalyst for developing healthier habits or stopping damaging ones.

Researchers in the United Kingdom wanted to find out if text messages could help people kick their cigarette habit. They randomized nearly 6,000 people into their study. Participants in the intervention group got multiple messages daily with motivational and informational content such as: “Cravings last less than 5 minutes on average. To help distract yourself, try sipping a drink slowly until the craving is over.” The control group also received texts but only twice per week and those were more generic, such as: “Thanks for participating in our study.”

The participants who got the daily texts were twice as likely to quit as those in the control group.

Text2Stop is now available as a subscription-based smoking cessation program in the United States. Both consumers and companies can enroll in the program. also offers text alerts and they are free.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists a number of health text services. Try one and see for yourself. You just might find it improves your health, helps you kick a bad habit, or develops a better one.