Journal of Medical Internet Research (Mar 2013)

Using Text Messaging to Assess Adolescents' Health Information Needs: An Ecological Momentary Assessment

  • Schnall, Rebecca,
  • Okoniewski, Anastasia,
  • Tiase, Victoria,
  • Low, Alexander,
  • Rodriguez, Martha,
  • Kaplan, Steven

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 15, no. 3
p. e54


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BackgroundUse of mobile technology has made a huge impact on communication, access, and information/resource delivery to adolescents. Mobile technology is frequently used by adolescents. ObjectiveThe purpose of this study was to understand the health information needs of adolescents in the context of their everyday lives and to assess how they meet their information needs. MethodsWe gave 60 adolescents smartphones with unlimited text messaging and data for 30 days. Each smartphone had applications related to asthma, obesity, human immunodeficiency virus, and diet preinstalled on the phone. We sent text messages 3 times per week and asked the following questions: (1) What questions did you have about your health today? (2) Where did you look for an answer (mobile device, mobile application, online, friend, book, or parent)? (3) Was your question answered and how? (4) Anything else? ResultsOur participants ranged from 13-18 years of age, 37 (62%) participants were male and 22 (37%) were female. Of the 60 participants, 71% (42/60) participants identified themselves as Hispanic and 77% (46/60) were frequent users of mobile devices. We had a 90% (1935/2150) response rate to our text messages. Participants sent a total of 1935 text messages in response to the ecological momentary assessment questions. Adolescents sent a total of 421 text messages related to a health information needs, and 516 text messages related to the source of information to the answers of their questions, which were related to parents, friends, online, mobile apps, teachers, or coaches. ConclusionsText messaging technology is a useful tool for assessing adolescents’ health behavior in real-time. Adolescents are willing to use text messaging to report their health information. Findings from this study contribute to the evidence base on addressing the health information needs of adolescents. In particular, attention should be paid to issues related to diet and exercise. These findings may be the harbinger for future obesity prevention programs for adolescents.