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Text messages can help prevent type 2 diabetes



Text messages that encourage the recipient to eat healthily and exercise can help prevent type 2 diabetes in people at high risk, a study has found. Researchers from Imperial College London and the India Diabetes Research Foundation recruited 537 men in South-East India with impaired glucose tolerance, a condition that commonly precedes type 2 diabetes. Half received frequent text messages reminding them to eat healthily and be physically active, while the other half had standard care from their doctor.

After an average of 20 months’ follow-up, 18 per cent of the text message group developed type 2 diabetes, compared with 27 per cent of the control group. The findings were published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. The messages included practical tips for healthy eating and reminders about the importance of exercise. They were also tailored to the individual’s behaviour. Those with the most unhealthy lifestyles were given information about the benefits of good habits, such as: “Active life makes you live longer.” Those who followed doctors’ advice were given encouragement to continue, such as: “Hope you had a healthy week!”

Professor Desmond Johnston, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, who led the study, said: “We’ve known for years that you can prevent type 2 diabetes by modifying your lifestyle, but the problem is how to support people to do that. Frequent personal contact with a doctor is effective, but it’s very costly to provide. We’ve shown that you can achieve similar results using mobile phone messaging, which is a very low-cost solution. We plan to carry out more studies in other populations but there’s no reason why this strategy shouldn’t work anywhere else in the world.”

The findings from this research study also have implications for the management of other chronic diseases. Text messaging (SMS) is cheap, quick and simple; and it can also be scaled up to be used in large numbers of people.

The study was funded by the UK India Education and Research Initiative and the World Diabetes Foundation.

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