New University of Michigan research says text messages can help patients be more mindful of how to avoid Type 2 diabetes, yet fewer than half of participants studied stayed throughout duration of the program.

An overwhelming majority of surveyed people who enrolled in the customized texting service, txt4health piloted in Detroit and Cincinnati last year, said the free mobile education program made them more aware of their diabetes risk and more likely to make diet-related behavior changes and lose weight. The service was also launched in New Orleans but those participants were not included in the study.

While the program seemed to work well for those who completed it, only 39 percent stuck through all 14 weeks. The findings appear in two studies published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Most participants reported that after completing the program, they were more likely to replace sugary drinks with water (78 percent), have a piece of fresh fruit instead of dessert (74 percent), substitute a small salad for chips or fries when dining out (76 percent), buy healthier foods when grocery shopping (80 percent), and eat more grilled, baked, or broiled foods instead of fried (76 percent).

The majority of survey respondents also reported that the text messages were easy to understand (100 percent), that the program made them knowledgeable of their risk for developing type 2 diabetes (88 percent) and more aware of their dietary and physical activity habits (89 percent). Eighty-eight percent also said they enjoyed participating in the program.

“We found that this method of health intervention had potential to significantly influence people’s health habits and have great reach – however, sustained participant engagement across the 14 weeks was lower than desired,” lead author Lorraine R. Buis, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School, told the U-M Health System news service in a release accompanying the studies' publication.

“It’s clear that a text message program may not be appropriate for everyone; however, for a large subset of people, this may be a feasible, acceptable, and useful strategy to motivate positive behavior changes.”

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