Previous research has shown that when people keep track of their diet and exercise habits, they do better at losing weight. (Agencies)
However, sticking with detailed monitoring of what you eat and your exercise habits electronically or through traditional pen and paper can prove cumbersome. If people stop doing it, they may stop losing weight.
Tracking this information through text messages could save time and improve the likelihood of people sticking with their get-healthy routine, said researchers at Duke University.
Their study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that after six months, 26 obese women who used daily texting as part of the Shape Plan weight-loss intervention lost nearly 1.3 kg, while another 24 who followed traditional methods gained 1.1 kg.
The average age of participants was 38. The daily text messages focused on tracking tailored behavioural goals (i.e., no sugary drinks, 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 number of steps you walked, number 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 behaviours," said lead author Dori Steinberg, a post-doctoral obesity researcher in the Duke Obesity Prevention Programme.
Text messaging offers several advantages compared to other self-monitoring methods, she said. 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, she said.
The study primarily focused on helping obese black women lose weight (82 percent of participants were black). Researchers said that's because 59 percent of black women are obese, and many use cell phones. 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 programme, with 85 per cent texting at least two days per week. Most participants reported that 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, researchers said.
Previous research has shown that when people keep track of their diet and exercise habits, they do better at losing weight.