How keeping the weight off is helped by text messages

02 March 2017

  • Research shows teens can keep the weight off with text prompts
  • WBS academic Ivo Vlaev suggests such interventions are sorely needed
  • 'Commitment' texts urging teens to 'eat fruit for dessert' had positive effect
  • Untreated, obesity in children can lead to diabetes or osteoarthritis

Texts committing obese teenagers to eat a small bowl of cereal each day or fruit for dessert saw them eight times more likely to keep their weight down.

Losing weight through dieting and exercise is only half the battle, as typically half of it is regained within a year and around 80 per cent of people return to or even exceed their pre-diet size.

But a study has shown that simple text messages can change teenagers’ behaviour and make them commit to preventing the pounds from piling back on again.

“The results of the current trial with adolescents are clinically important and unique,” said Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School.

“Interventions that help people maintain weight loss are sorely needed. Regardless of what interventions people use to lose weight, whether it is drugs or behavioural, the weight is commonly regained.

“Therefore, finding effective interventions to maintain people’s new lower weight is crucial for the long-term success of the interventions and their health.

“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.”

For the paper The use of commitment techniques to support weight loss maintenance in obese adolescentspublished in Psychology & Health, Professor Vlaev and a team of researchers including Kelly-Ann Schmidtke, of Warwick Business School, conducted a 12-week pilot trial of adolescents attending an eight-week weight loss camp offered by MoreLife.

Using youngsters who had experienced similar weight loss the researchers split them into two groups of 13 and 14 children.

How NHS texts can help people keep the weight off

One group of teenagers - who had lost on average 2.63kg - received text messages that contained only useful information, such as advice about weight loss management. A second group – who averaged 2.32kg weight lost - were sent texts asking them to commit to an action.

The ‘commitment group’ had text messages asking them to do something, such as: “Can you promise to eat 30g of cereals each morning before school? Please txt back CAMP followed by Yes or No to 8810.”

If participants indicated their commitment to this message, then the subsequent messages only reminded them of their commitment; for example: “Are you managing to eat cereals in the morning? Text back CAMP followed by Yes or No to 8810.”

Professor Vlaev said: “The BMI of the adolescents in the commitment group stayed at the same level. In contrast, the BMI of adolescents in the ‘information only group’ increased.

“Analysis of the data revealed adolescents in the information group were nearly eight times more likely to regain weight than those in the commitment group.”

Professor Vlaev added: “Commitment devices are just one type of behavioural intervention healthcare workers can use to help adolescents maintain their recent weight loss.

“The results of this study are encouraging and are certainly worth exploring further as there could be serious health benefits for people trying to lose weight at very little extra cost.”

 

Ivo Vlaev is Professor of Behavioural Science and teaches Mobilising Resources and Incentives for Healthcare Innovation on the MSc Strategic Leadership & Innovation in Healthcare.

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