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Texting Food Diaries Helps Kids Stick With Diets

Study found hi-tech method improved compliance more than paper and pencil

THURSDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Experts hope that letting kids have their fingers do the texting will increase compliance with the food diaries that are such a critical part of successful dieting.

As a first proof that such a method might work, a new University of North Carolina study shows that kids aged 5 to 13 are almost twice as likely to text daily records of their food intake, exercise and screen time as those using the old-fashioned kinds of diaries. The research was published in the November/December issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Previous studies have shown that dieters who keep these types of records are more likely to lose weight and to keep it off, according to study author Jennifer Shapiro, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry.

"What we're looking for is a fun way for people, particularly children," to keep these diaries, Shapiro said. "If people enjoy doing it, they're more likely to do it and more likely to lose weight."

The eight-week study following 31 families with children aged 5 to 13 showed that those kids who used text messaging were almost twice as likely to comply with the program than kids who used paper and pencil.

The popularity of this approach was demonstrated by the fact 100 percent of the participating children and parents initially said they hoped they would be selected for the text-messaging group.

In the study, an immediate text message responded to the children's report on how well they met their goals. Children who used the paper-and-pencil diaries had to wait a week to report to their nutritionist for a response to their progress.

"Feedback is very important," Shapiro explained. "It makes them feel like there is someone on the other line paying attention, and they need to be more accountable."

The study's goal was to measure adherence to the dieting diary process and did not measure weight loss, Shapiro said. Because it was such a small study, the results did not reach statistical significance, but the researchers hope to repeat the study with a larger population and for a longer time.

"The idea of text messaging is really interesting, particularly to communicate with a new generation," added Dorothy Teegarden, a professor in the department of foods and nutrition at Purdue University.

But Teegarden agreed further research needs to be done on the effectiveness of this approach, given the wide gap in the age range and the fact that parents also were involved. She explained that some research shows that it's easier to modify behavior within the context of a family environment. "So, just that part of the study might have contributed to better compliance," she added.

The fact that all of the kids wanted to be part of the text-messaging group also may have biased the study, said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. The children who were assigned the paper-and-pencil diary might not have been as compliant, because they didn't get the tool they wanted, she explained.

Research has shown that 19 percent of kids aged 6 to 11 are overweight, and 80 percent of those kids become obese adults, according to the study.

More information

For more on children and obesity, go to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Lona Sandon, assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Jennifer Shapiro, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dorothy Teegarden, Ph.D., professor, department of foods and nutrition, Purdue University, Lafayette, Ind.; November/December 2008, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

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