iMedicalApps and JMIR Publications have partnered to help disseminate interesting & innovative digital health research being done worldwide. Each article in this series will feature summaries of interesting studies to help you keep up to date on the latest in digital health research. We invite you to share your thoughts on the study in the comments section.

Automated behavioral text messaging and face-to-face intervention for parents of overweight or obese preschool children: results from a pilot study

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

Building on my clinical experience and appreciating the importance of pediatric primary care, I chose to focus my research on synergizing clinical care with mobile technology. mHealth provides an opportunity to support children and families in wellness though real-time, simple behavior change triggers. However, the literature in this area is scant and evidence is needed to best guide clinical practice.

2. Describe your study.

This research was conducted in families with a preschool-aged child recently diagnosed as overweight or obese by their primary care provider. Parents were coached on skills to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors using cognitive behavior therapy. All of the skills were supported using tailored, adaptive text messaging. The novel feature of this program is that the parents helped to create messages that “spoke to them.” Using an automated software application messages were delivered based on desired content, timing, and frequency to support behavior change or skills practice at home.

3. What were the results of the study?

Preliminary effects showed a significant increase in parental beliefs in their ability to engage in healthy lifestyles and self-reported healthy lifestyle behaviors. Furthermore, all parents reported the program as being useful, and indicated a desire to have their pediatric primary care incorporate the text messaging as an additional form of communication.

4. What is the main point that readers should take away from this study?

More evidence is needed to support technology and pediatric primary care. However, parents desire innovative, simplistic support to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors and tailored, adaptive text messaging shows promise as an adjunct to clinical care.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

Simply texting a family is not enough. The tone of the text message (ie., funny or authoritative) varied based on the family preference. Also – timing and frequency of text delivery varied based on the skill being practiced. All worthy of further examination to promote health in children and families.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affect R&D?

A longitudinal study is warranted to determine the effect of the intervention on behavior and even BMI. However, additional work is needed to optimize the intervention and tease out the key components to support behavior change. This form of technology is simplistic with broad reach, ideal for application as an adjunct to pediatric primary care.

Militello.585a8f85This Q&A was contributed by Dr. Lisa Miltello (@lkmilitelllo), a postdoctoral research fellow at the Ohio State University. Her background is in pediatric primary care and maternal-child health. As a clinical researcher, she conducts trials using health information technology and behavior change strategies to promote health and wellness to children and families.