Thursday, April 7, 2016

It’s been a struggle of parents around the world for hundreds of years: how do you get children to eat healthy food? Communicating nutritional information to young adults, in particular, was a concern that researchers recently put to the test. Dr. Christina Pollard, from Perth’s Curtin University, focused on ways to reach people aged 18 to 30—a period during which poor nutrition and increased alcohol consumption are common—using standard text messages.

Preventative Medicine Via Text Message

Mobile healthcare, or mhealth, has the potential to save thousands of lives. Preventative medicine with regards to nutrition can reduce people’s chances of developing all kinds of conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. The study above used participants to determine how receptive they were to certain ‘Tone of Voice’ (ToV) styles, like authoritative or empathetic, combined with content in different areas of nutrition.

A total of 39 young adults from the Perth, Western Australia, area participated in four focus groups. They ranked their reactions to 15 nutritional messages, which focused on three dietary behaviors (fruits and vegetables, junk food, and alcohol) using five different ToV styles including, authoritative, empathetic, Generation Y, solutions, and substations. Data analysis explored different trends or themes that were reveled after the study’s conclusion.

The Results of the Study

The paper reported that no singular ToV or type of content changed dietary behavior for all participants—a one-size fits all approach isn’t going to work for this type of text endeavor. But there were a few trends within the focus groups that emerged in interesting ways.

For one, women and men generally had different thoughts about the effectiveness of authoritative versus empathetic tones. It was discovered that women preferred text messages with an empathetic tone, compared to authoritative messages, the latter of which women felt came across as “condescending.” Men, on the other had, didn’t share this sentiment and found the authorities tone to be more persuasive than women did.

Another finding from the study suggests that the kind of content being presented is just as important as they way that information is said. For example, content focused on making healthy food substitutions was well received by both sexes; they viewed it as helpful and practical.

Overall, the study found that food substitution advice and a tone of empathy were likely to be most effective when motivating nutritional behavior changes.

Real-Life Application

Although the study doesn’t offer conclusive findings for all test subjects, the research highlights the importance of two factors that greatly impact the effectiveness of text messaging, particularly when it applies to mhealth.

Just like in other industries, the ways in which we engage patients greatly impacts the effectiveness of the message. Similarly, the content, or the way we package that information in a text message, can also have a great effect on how people interact with that content.