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"In discussions the teens said they wanted to be told what to do, instead of having to come up with their own weight-loss strategies."
August 31, 2011 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Weight-gain. "LOL!" "Teens love text messages--and those texts may help them lose weight, if they're done right. A study tested out various types of weight management-themed text messages on overweight teens to see what they liked, finding that they favored positive messages but disliked thoughtful questions."

Researchers from the University of Michigan thought tailored text messages might be a good way to help teens adopt lifestyle changes, since texts have been successful in helping others drop bad habits. Objective: The objective of this project is to develop tailored text messages (TTM) to be delivered via mobile telephones to obese adolescents enrolled in the Michigan Pediatric Outpatient Weight Evaluation and Reduction (MPOWER) program. The use of tailored text messages as an adjunct to clinic visits in this multidisciplinary weight management program, presents a promising means of achieving interim contact, potentially increasing adherence and decreasing attrition among adolescents in the program. [PDF]
posted by Fizz (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE (NOT)
posted by DU at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2011


The next step, said the authors, is to test the texts out on teens to see if they actually have any effect on weight loss.

Yes, that might be a good way to test the hypothesis.
posted by brain_drain at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


"In discussions the teens said they wanted to be told what to do, instead of having to come up with their own weight-loss strategies."

This is what saddens me the most. Are teenagers really that apathetic and lazy that rather than THINK, they just want to be TOLD? Ok, now that I reflect on that, it makes complete sense. *sigh.
posted by Fizz at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2011


So, wait do the kids sign up for it or are they enrolled into it by parents? Cause my mom was perfectly capable of telling me nobody loves a fatty with the frequency of a text message all on her own.

Just the idea of this is activating my Jerk Teenager circuits, are teenagers known for following the advice of authativie disembodied voices?
posted by The Whelk at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hey, this totally worked for us when I was a teen and they introduced Get in Shape, Girl!
posted by aabbbiee at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


are teenagers known for following the advice of authativie disembodied voices?

You've obviously not watched a teenager in front of MTV.
posted by Fizz at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2011


Are teenagers really that apathetic and lazy that rather than THINK, they just want to be TOLD?

Most adults can't get weight-loss plans working for them when left to their own devices. The only benefit teenagers have is a faster metabolism, and even that's not a given. How many long-term plans with no immediate results did you accomplish at 16?
posted by griphus at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Conclusion: Subjects patronized researchers by saying their Tailored Text Messages were cute, even though they thought they were totally lame.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Pretty much if someone is not an expert in something, they like to be instructed through it, rather than try to apply some abstract theory and hope for success.
posted by Ardiril at 7:48 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In discussions the teens said they wanted to be told what to do, instead of having to come up with their own weight-loss strategies."

This is pretty much how I feel about the issue, and meal planning in general. I'm definitely not apathetic or lazy. This actually seems like a pretty honest way to aim for real success to me.
posted by meinvt at 7:50 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


For the most part, this is crap journalism filler about a fast one-year study (performed by seniors for a study methodology course for all we know). I wouldn't draw any hard and fast conclusions from it.
posted by Ardiril at 7:55 AM on August 31, 2011


Kids+cellphones+school=?? I would be more concerned with "attention-loss" strategies.
posted by obscurator at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2011


I wouldn't draw any hard and fast conclusions from it.

Except for how easy it is to make broad conclusions and generalizations about teenagers. As a 30 yr. I do this often and with much vitriol.
posted by Fizz at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2011


For the most part, this is crap journalism filler about a fast one-year study (performed by seniors for a study methodology course for all we know).

Well the authors are cutesy, because of this: Michigan Pediatric Outpatient Weight Evaluation and Reduction (MPOWER), and the title of the article is actually "OMG Do Not Say LOL: Obese Adolescents' Perspectives on the Content of Text Messages to Enhance Weight Loss Efforts"
but the authors seem to be pretty solid. Here are their affiliations:

Pediatric Comprehensive Weight Management Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Department of Pediatrics, Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Center for Health Communications Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Medical School, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
posted by cashman at 8:01 AM on August 31, 2011


Fizz: while sitting in a rocking chair with a shotgun?
posted by obscurator at 8:02 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is what saddens me the most. Are teenagers really that apathetic and lazy that rather than THINK, they just want to be TOLD? Ok, now that I reflect on that, it makes complete sense. *sigh.

I don't think this has anything to do with teenagers. My mother is subscribed to 3 or 4 different mailing lists that send her weight-loss tips by email. If she texted, I'm sure she'd like txts, too.

There's a program called Fly Lady that has all sorts of information about how to keep on top of your housework, but it all began with someone sending you multiple emails a day telling you what to clean next. A great many people *love* Fly Lady and find it really works for them.

Just wanting to be told to do unpleasant things instead of having to decide which unpleasant thing to do and when to do it and then motivate yourself to do it is by no means a teenage property.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:02 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, wait do the kids sign up for it or are they enrolled into it by parents?
Adolescents in the MPOWER program (all of whom had a BMI >95th percentile for age and gender) were invited by email and/or flyer to participate in the focus groups. Consent to participate was obtained from parents and assent from the adolescents. Adolescents were compensated with a $20 gift card for participation. Thirty adolescents agreed to participate in the focus groups, 24 actually participated. Those who did not attend cited scheduling conflicts as the primary reason for not attending.
posted by cashman at 8:04 AM on August 31, 2011


I don't think this has anything to do with teenagers.

Ok, that was my being a cranky 30 yr. old. I guess it is more of a question of human nature and whether or not people can motivate themselves or if it's easier to simply be told what to do.
posted by Fizz at 8:08 AM on August 31, 2011


Are teenagers really that apathetic and lazy that rather than THINK, they just want to be TOLD?

Most adults can't get weight-loss plans working for them when left to their own devices.


I'm sure a lot of this is the helpfulness of having someone nag you. But there's also the fact that there is no way to think and come up with a weight loss plan. There is so much contradictory information out there, plus fads and deliberate misinformation, all passed around Telephone-style and getting corrupted. And that's on top of the fact that what works for Person A doesn't work for Person B. At some point, you just throw up your hands and say "fine, YOU tell ME what to do and I'll try it and we'll see".
posted by DU at 8:10 AM on August 31, 2011


Hmmm, that seems very self-selecting, like the kind of people for whom this kind of thing would work are the kind of people who would sign up for it cause I gotta tell you just reading about it gives me a knee jerk " Don't tell me what to do!" response.
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on August 31, 2011


What I'm saying is that nagging is completely useless and unhelpful for some people.
posted by The Whelk at 8:12 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


they favored positive messages but disliked thoughtful questions

The American body politic in one sentence fragment.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:14 AM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


This study was just a focus group, asking teens what they thought would be helpful. They haven't actually tested the texting program for real. I'm too lazy to dig up references, but my impression is that focus groups can give pretty misleading results because participants feel some pressure to give the "right" answers (as opposed to telling the unflattering unvarnished truth).

I'm doing a vaguely similar study right now, for exercise rather than weight loss per se, and I'm finding it really annoying. Like telemarketer-robodialer-political-fundraiser annoying. I think the investigators have made an unfounded assumption, which is that EVERYBODY likes social media and frequent contact with "people who care about me" (in this case, that would be the investigators, who care enough to set up an auto-nag smartphone app).

I think it would be useful to query participants beforehand about their attitude toward social media in broad terms. I suspect that freaks people who dislike Facebook and Twitter would find be DEmotivated by robo-nagging.
posted by Quietgal at 8:14 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


So-called "self-starters" of all stripes often have difficulty understanding those who need or prefer prodding or explicit instruction. The fact that self-starting is a listed requirement for just about every job means a lot of people are pinioned into false self-assessments or pushed into cycles of attempt, frustration, and despair all too often. For many teenagers fighting extra weight, other people's bafflement about their inability to push themselves can be humiliating and counterproductive.

It's hard to see a solution, though. People want what's best for kids, but how do you help them without making them feel like a problem to be fixed? Research into programs like this may seem a little lightweight, but it has the advantage of being constructive, if only in a small way.

Moreover, most people who consider themselves bootstrappers are merely lucky liars. Real gumption is rare.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


hi emily chk out this thinspo pic lol hv u puked yet today xoxo
posted by naju at 8:18 AM on August 31, 2011


Yeah eating disorders go both ways ...
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The study of teenagers/weight-loss/texting aside. I guess it's more about how people respond to motivation, whether or not they need to be told something or would rather do it themselves.

It seems obvious that it's easier to have someone tell you what to do, but one reason I do not do well in gym settings is because I'm usually being screamed at by some hyper-muscled macho man and that is NOT a good way to motivate me. I run on my own and it lets me choose how hard and how far I want to push myself.
posted by Fizz at 8:23 AM on August 31, 2011


I am damn near 50 years old, and the dopey, patronizing 'thoughtful question' in the article made me roll my eyes and whine, "MAAAAAAAAAAHHHHM!"

I can't fault teenagers for doing the same.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:33 AM on August 31, 2011


I don't think it is nagging in the study. It just turned out to be a choice of less than effective technology. If they had emailed the "thoughtful questions" instead of texting them, the response likely would have been much different.

Look at the questions they were texting these kids: "What does being healthy mean for you? How does screen time fit in with your goals? How could less screen time help your health?"

Who wants to text back a response to that, or even engage with that via a text message? Not me. Their whole idea with that was to help the kids self-generate ideas, because the behavior change literature they cite indicates that sustained behaviors are more likely to come from self-generated ideas.

So they found that this doesn't work with text messages the way they formatted them. Yay, science at work.

The teens "stated repeatedly that they just wanted to be told what to do, rather than having to think about ways in which they might address weight loss challenges."

Call me crazy, but I don't want to sit around and think about ways to address weight loss challenges, especially if it is general thought provocation from a group of weight loss experts. I feel like you're the experts (and the study describes how the authors purposefully made the text messages feel like they came from the team of researchers, not just a health system), tell me what to do and how to do it. To get better at basketball I'm not going to go to a basketball coach so she can say "think about how you can shoot a jump shot". No, I want her to text me "90 degree elbow." "Follow through." "Take 2 free throws." "Release at the top of your jump."

This is what they cited for the research that says self-generated ideas lead to more sustained behaviors: Petty RE, Cacioppo JT. Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change. Springer-Verlag: New York, 1986.

Maybe things have changed in the last 25 years?
posted by cashman at 8:33 AM on August 31, 2011


A study tested out various types of weight management-themed text messages on overweight teens to see what they liked, finding that they favored positive messages but disliked thoughtful questions."...The next step, said the authors, is to test the texts out on teens to see if they actually have any effect on weight loss.

I thought this sounded pretty dumb at first, testing which messages teens liked instead of which messages worked, but I guess the first step in testing the latter is finding out what kinds of messages teens will actually put up with. Even if you found that thoughtful questions lead to more weight loss than positive messages, that does you no good in the real world if it turns out most teens will opt out of the thoughtful question approach before it has a chance to have any effect.
posted by straight at 8:41 AM on August 31, 2011


"The American body politic in one sentence fragment."

Why not? The body politic uses layman's language to discuss and decide issues that require post-graduate degrees to understand just the basics.
posted by Ardiril at 8:51 AM on August 31, 2011


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