N° 98 | March 2015

« Health Promotion & new technologies »

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Health promotion is an important factor to help increase positive health behaviors. According to the World Health Organization, “Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions”1.

Effective health promotion combines acceptable messages with new technologies to target positive health behaviors. Technologies like blogs, podcasts, wikis, and social networking sites are social media tools that permit the exchange of user-generated material and information. Text messaging allows individuals to send messages via a wireless device. The use of these emerging technologies in health promotion has increased knowledge and positive health behaviors in various populations2-4.

Texting is very popular; 73% of adult mobile phone owners text, sending or receiving an average of 415 messages per day6. Additionally, 74% of online adults use social networking sites, with 40% of cell phone owners accessing social networking sites on their phone7. The use of text messaging (“texting”) and social media are relatively new practices to health promotion. These technologies provide new mediums for promoting positive health behaviors. However, the decision to use texting and social media within health promotion depends largely on the target population.

Involving the target population in the creation and distribution of health messages will increase the acceptability and appropriateness of the message and mode of communication. The input from the target population provides guidance regarding the types of messages, how often the messages should be sent, and the time-of-day when messages should be sent. Texting and social media tools have been used in research interventions as behavior modification reminders,providing advice, tips, information, and assisting with disease management. Texting and social media tools have also been implemented in various populations, but no two populations are alike. Thus, more research is needed to support the acceptability and effectiveness of texting and social media tools on health promotion.

The benefits of using texting and social media tools for health promotion are:

  1. The low cost to send/receive text messages or participate in a social medium
  2. Provide discreet messages that can be personalized/tailored; and
  3. Provide direct contact to the intended individual.

Although many individuals text and participate in social media tools, some limitations to using texting and social media tools for health promotion do exist. Some of the limitations include:

  1. Some subject matter are not generalizable (i.e. sex health,
    caloric intake);
  2. Usage/skills vary by population; and
  3. “Data usage” cost may deter participation.

When determining the best method of health promotion, consideration is required on how these benefits and limitations of using texting and social media relate to the target population.

In general, texting and social media are acceptable forms of communication by the majority of the population. These medium can also be acceptable and effective novel approaches to health promotion. “The keys to effective social media outreach are identifying target audience(s), determining objective (s), knowing outlets and deciding on the amount of resources (time and effort) that can be invested”8. Interventions using texting and social media are mostly short-term (3-6 months). Additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness of texting and social media tools on long-term health promotion and long-term health behavior change.

  1. World Health Organization. Health Topics. http://www.who.int/topics/health_promotion/en/. Accessed January 13, 2015.
  2. Weitzel JA, Bernhardt JM, Usdan S, Mays D, Glanz K. Using Wireless Handheld Computers and Tailored Text Messaging to Reduce Negative Consequences of Drinking Alcohol. Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs. 2007;68(4):534-537.
  3. Free C, Knight R, Robertson S, et al. Smoking cessation support delivered via mobile phone text messaging (txt@stop): a single-blind, randomized trial. Lancet. 2011;378(9785):49-55.
  4. Park LG, Howie-Esquivel J, Chung ML, Dracup K. A text messaging intervention to promote medication adherence for patients with coronary heart disease: a randomized controlled trial. Patient Educ Couns. 2014;84(2):261-8.
  5. Brown, ON, O’Connor LE, Saviano D. Mobile MyPlate: A Pilot Study Using Text Messaging to Provide Nutrition Education and Promote Better Dietary Choices in College Students. J A< Coll Health. 2014; 62(5):320-7.
  6. PewResearch Internet Project. Americans and Text Messaging. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/09/19/how-americans-use-text-messaging/. Accessed January 10, 2015.
  7. PewResearch Internet Project. Social Networking Fact Sheet. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/. Accessed January 10, 2015.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit. July 2011.
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