Motivational Interviewing by Text Message

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October 24, 2017 by Marcus O'Neill MSC RD

Does sending regular motivational text messages help to improve outcomes for families attending pediatric weight management programs? A recent study by Sarah Armstrong et al. explores just that.

In this study, the authors recruited 100 participants from Duke’s Healthy Lifestyles clinic in Durham, North Carolina. Families were randomly assigned to 2 groups; one group received the intervention and standard treatment (n=47); the other group received only the standard treatment (n=53). The intervention consisted of sending parents 2-3 daily text messages (Mon-Fri) from a library of 100 motivational prompts. Researchers were trained to preferentially reinforce goals identified by the parents that were the “most evidence-based and likely to lead to child BMI reduction”. The intervention ran for 12 weeks; each week, parents were given an option to identify a new goal to work on or to continue working on the previous goal.

Their findings? Daily text messages did not result in measurable changes in BMI (for child or parent) or health behaviours, but they did find that parents’ satisfaction with the intervention was high and that families receiving text messages were more likely to attend their clinic appointments than those who did not.

At first glance, it may seem a little disappointing that text messaging did not seem to improve the primary outcome of this study; however, it is important not to undersell the importance of the intervention’s acceptability and ability to keep families engaged with their treatment. After all, in order to affect positive change over the long term, you first have to make sure children and parents keep coming through the clinic’s door.

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