You may think of your mobile device as your direct connection to all things important, but do you know it could actually be your secret weapon in losing weight, avoiding risky sexual situations or dodging the next viral outbreak or winter storm?
It’s stating the obvious to say mobile devices are pervasive in our society. After all, when was the last time you saw someone glued to one? (Exactly!)
In a recent United Kingdom survey, 37 percent of adults admitted to being “highly addicted” to their smartphone. In a modern civilization that’s understandable. I mean, what’s not to love?
Today’s smartphone and tablet technology not only burrs the line between work and social networking, but also speaks to our inner-geeky need for volumes of information or be entertained anywhere there is a broadband or WIFI connection.
The proof is the surge in data traffic on U.S. wireless networks in 2011, which more than doubled from the previous year. During that same period the number of users increased 67 percent to 95.8 million, reports The CTIA, an international trade group for wireless telecommunications.
For example, in the United States the number of wireless connections now exceeds the total population, says CTIA. Industry analysts credit the surge to the growing public acceptance of smartphones, tablets and machine-to-machine devices with embedded wireless connections and the increase in people with multiple devices.
Perhaps equally important, mobile device users cut cross all socioeconomic groups and geographical boundaries. Surprisingly, mobile devices are more affordable than computers, particularly in poor and remote communities where few landlines exist and electricity can be hard to maintain.
Is there any wonder then, why public health experts are looking for ways to harness the power and connectivity the technology is giving each of us?
In the not-too-distant future your mobile device may well help you manage a chronic disease, remind you about doctor visits or lab work, or offer personalized health interventions for smoking cessation, sexual health, diabetes and medication management, nutrition, or increasing your physical activity.
In our new interconnected world, a face-to face-chat with your health care team might be accomplished via mobile device instead of taking off work and driving across town for an office visit.
“Among the emerging health care delivery technologies, cell phones currently provide the greatest opportunity for personalized, private, and easily accessed information through the use of short message service (SMS),” says Angelica Barrera-Ng, a University of California San Diego (UCSD) public health representative for The ConTxt study, a joint project of Calit2's Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.
The ConTxt study is a four-year randomized controlled trial funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop and test the efficacy of a SMS intervention for weight loss among overweight and moderately obese (BMI 27–39.9) men and women ages 21–60 in the San Diego metro area. Participant recruitment is underway now, and the study’s results should be available in 2014.
Angelica Barrera-Ng says Con-Txt’s primary goal is to help participants achieve a five percent weight loss, 500 per day calorie decrease, and substantially increase their physical activity by offering personalized support through text messages.
“ConTxt is an innovative, yet straightforward approach to getting people to monitor their diet and physical activity,“ says the study’s principal investigator Kevin Patrick, MD, MS, a professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at UCSD School of Medicine.
“We’re trying to make weight loss support as pain free as possible. People won’t stick to something that is too difficult and they are all multi-tasking anyway. We’re doing this study to increase what we know about using the cell phone to get messages to busy people always on the go.”
The idea to use SMS in keeping the public informed isn’t new. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been using text messaging widgets for several years to help people stay up-to-date and informed on public health issues, from emergency preparedness and hurricane and winter storm alerts to preventing falls and Lyme disease.
But as wireless communication network advance, more sophisticated uses are materializing. An experimental Canadian system that uses GPS-enabled smart phones to track the daily activities and health status of diabetic patients to correlate fluctuations in their blood glucose levels with their travel, exercise, work patterns, and medication and food intake. Similarly, in Kenya technology helped track outbreaks of avian flu in remote communities.
But how to tailor text personalized messages and intervention across cultural sensitivities and with age appropriateness is new territory for public health researchers hoping to communicate anytime, any place, lifesaving information in a low cost, easily digested and the adopted format by people on the go. That’s just what UCSD researchers hope study results show, while lowering participants’ cancer risk.
To learn more about enrolling in the ConTxt study, call 858-534-8412 or email [email protected] Video information at http://www.youtube.com/user/UCSDMedicalCenter?feature=mhee#p/a/u/1/zBC5tdKvpVc
Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach-loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Personal interview with Angelica Barrera-Ng , ConTxt Study, Communtiy Health Program Representative 20 January 2012.
FierceWireless. CTIA: U.S. smartphone users now total 95.8 million. Phil Goldstein. 11 October 2011. Accessed online 23 January 2012 at: http://www.fiercewireless.com/ctialive/story/ctia-us-smartphone-users-now-total-958-million/2011-10-11
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Widgets and Gadgets. Accessed online 23 January 2012 at:
California Health Care Foundation. Health Care Unplugged: The Evolving Role of Wireless Technology. Richard Adler, MBA. Published November 2007. Accessed online 23 January 2012 at: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2007/11/health-care-unplugged-the-evolving-role-of-wireless-technology
Edited by Jody Smith
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