Meeting Teens Where They Are – Texting for Health


The average teen sends anywhere from 3,000-6,500 texts a month according to the major cell phone carriers. So if we’re to meet teens where they are, it’s going to be behind the tiny screen of a cell phone.

Samueli Institute partnered with HealthCorps® to harness the power of text messaging in an effort to increase healthy choices in teenagers in a pilot study called What R U Eating. Founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz, HealthCorps runs in-school health programs to combat the childhood obesity crisis.

Using mobile technology to increase healthy behaviors is not a new concept; however the logistics of harnessing this technology has been largely unexplored. This study is one of the first of its kind testing the use of text messaging with teenagers as a telehealth option.


photo 2What Did U Eat, Drink & Do 2Day?

The study assessed the impact of texting to track behaviors as students go through HealthCorps’ programs on food choices and nutrition habits.

Students received a text message survey on weekdays asking the following:

1. Fruit and vegetable intake

2. Daily beverage consumption

3. Physical activity

A Critical Age

During adolescence, many young people establish patterns of behavior that affect their current health status, as well as their future quality of life in adulthood. Currently, 18.4% of adolescents 12-19 years old are obese with a higher prevalence among Hispanic boys and non-Hispanic black girls1.

Obesity can increase the risk of chronic health problems and psychological disorders as well as premature death, low self-esteem and lower quality of life. Unhealthy weight control behaviors occur in over one-half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys.

HealthCorps helps address this crisis through its curriculum and program that teaches high school students about nutrition, food choices and their impact on health and wellness.

The results of this study will help determine HealthCorps’ path for future implementation and further development of the program.


Sharing our Findings with the Field

Samueli Institute researchers presented our findings at the EPI Lifestyle 2015 scientific conference March 3-6 in Baltimore, Md., hosted by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. The conference is a platform to discuss issues in the areas of epidemiology and prevention, and lifestyle and cardiometabolic health with a focus on innovative electronic solutions that foster heart health.


1 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009–2010. NCHS Data Brief. Vol 82. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2012