A study that sent twice-weekly text messages to a million people in India advising them to exercise, eat less fat, and eat more fruits and vegetables increased these health behaviors known to prevent diabetes, reports new research from Northwestern Medicine and Arogya World, a global health non-profit organization.
This effort is the first to use the power and reach of mobile phones to change diabetes risk behaviors in a large number of people from different parts of a vast country like India. It has implications for diabetes prevention in low and middle-income countries.
In India, the diabetes burden is very high. An estimated 66 million people live with the disease, and one million die from it each year. Indian Americans also are hard hit with diabetes. The diabetes prevalence in this population is four times higher than among Caucasians in the United States.
Researchers compared composite scores of the experimental group’s fruit, vegetable and fat intake and exercise with the control group. While people in both the experimental and control group improved their health behaviors over six months, the experimental group improved significantly more.
Almost 40 percent more people improved their health behaviors as a result of the texting (299 showing improvement in the experimental group versus 185 in the control group), based on data in the paper.
The study was published August 8 in the Journal of Medical and Internet Research.
“Noncommunicable diseases, one of the leading health and development challenges of the century, demand simple, proven, cost-effective prevention solutions that can be easily deployed at the population level,” said Nalini Saligram, founder and CEO of Arogya World. “Our mDiabetes study suggests mobile health technology is a smart solution and has broad implications for diabetes prevention at the population level in low and middle-income countries.”
“This shows the potential for even the most basic of mobile phones to be used as a viable tool to deliver public health messages on a large scale across a diverse population,” said lead study author Dr. Angela Fidler Pfammatter, research assistant professor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “And you just need a basic mobile phone. This can make an impact.”
Dr. Bonnie Spring, director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Feinberg, collaborated on the research. Sandhya Ramlingam of Arogya World implemented the behavior change study.