During a 12-week study, one group of teenagers lost on average 2.63kg. This group were sent text messages that contained information about weight loss management.
Another group of teenagers lost on average 2.32kg. These subjects received texts requested them to commit to an action.
Further data analysis revealed that the teenagers in the information group were nearly eight times more likely to regain weight than those in the commitment group despite losing more weight on average.
Tackling adolescent obesity is seen as key to reducing the high proportion of teenagers, who enter adulthood carrying far more weight than is recommended.
Interventions that help people maintain weight loss in the long-term are sorely needed as weight is regained.
Studies have shown 50% of weight lost is regained in the first 12 months. This process continues so that 3–5 years after initial weight loss approximately 80% of people return to or exceed their original weight.
“Stable weight in growing adolescents with obesity is associated with an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the risk of them developing other problems due to obesity, such as diabetes or osteoarthritis,” said Ivo Vlaev, professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick.
Text messages have proven a particularly successful delivery method for adolescents in the past and can be considered a commitment device.
This refers to a tool that changes the environment by stating an agreement for person to act in a certain way.
Commitment devices normally require little conscious effort to change behaviour even when they are generically tailored.
During the trial, teenagers attending a weight loss camp were randomly assigned to receive either text messages each week that contained advice about weight loss management or asked for them to commit to following the same advice.
In the information group, 13 participants (8 female, 5 male with an average age of 13.7) received text messages that provided general information, such as advice about weight loss maintenance.
Examples of text messages sent to this group included: “Remember it is important to make sure your food portion size is right for you.”
In the commitment group, 14 participants (10 female, 4 male with an average age of 13.8) received text messages that requested a commitment to a behavioural task based on the same information.
Examples of text messages sent to this group included: “Can you promise to eat 30 g of cereals each morning before school? Please txt back CAMP followed by Yes or No to 8810.”
If a teenager committed to the text’s instructions, they received follow-up text reminders, for example: “Are you managing to eat cereals in the morning? Text back CAMP followed by Yes or No to 8810.”
“The results of this study are encouraging and are certainly worth exploring further as there could serious health benefits for people trying to lose weight at very little extra cost,” added Vlaev.
The trialling of text messages in managing weight has been tried out in the past. One of the problems encountered has been the cost in developing personalised messages as well as the time and effort involved.
Generic commitment messages similar to the ones used in the current trial are more likely to be cost-effective.
The study believed that no other stand-alone email or phone-based weight loss intervention for adolescents has been successful.
“These results add to a growing literature demonstrating the power of behavioural interventions to positively influence behaviour, with low financial costs, little cognitive efforts on part of the participants and likely fewer negative side effects than many pharmacological interventions,” the study concluded.
Source: Psychology & Health
Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2016.1204452
“The use of commitment techniques to support weight loss maintenance in obese adolescents.”
Authors: Ivo Vlaev et al.