Background: Few tools exist to directly measure the microsocial and physical environments of adolescents in circumstances where participatory observation is not practical or ethical. Yet measuring these environments is important as they are significantly associated with adolescent health-risk. For example, health-related behaviors such as cigarette smoking often occur in specific places where smoking may be relatively surreptitious.
Results: We assessed the feasibility of using GPS-enabled cell phones to track adolescent travel patterns and gather daily diary data. We enrolled 15 adolescent women from a clinic-based setting and asked them to carry the phones for 1 week. We found that these phones can accurately and reliably track participant locations, as well as record diary information on adolescent behaviors. Participants had variable paths extending beyond their immediate neighborhoods, and denied that GPS-tracking influenced their activity.
Conclusion: GPS-enabled cell phones offer a feasible and, in many ways, ideal modality of monitoring the location and travel patterns of adolescents. In addition, cell phones allow space- and time-specific interaction, probing, and intervention which significantly extends both research and health promotion beyond a clinical setting. Future studies can employ GPS-enabled cell phones to better understand adolescent environments, how they are associated with health-risk behaviors, and perhaps intervene to change health behavior.