Methods to assess youth engagement in a text messaging supplement to an effective teen pregnancy program

J Biomed Inform. 2015 Aug;56:379-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2015.07.003. Epub 2015 Jul 11.


Youth are prolific users of cell phone minutes and text messaging. Numerous programs using short message service text messaging (SMS) have been employed to help improve health behaviors and health outcomes. However, we lack information on whether and what type of interaction or engagement with SMS program content is required to realize any benefit. We explored youth engagement with an automated SMS program designed to supplement a 25-session youth development program with demonstrated efficacy for reductions in teen pregnancy. Using two years of program data, we report on youth participation in design of message content and response frequency to messages among youth enrolled in the intervention arm of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) as one indicator of engagement. There were 221 youth between the ages of 14-18 enrolled over two years in the intervention arm of the RCT. Just over half (51%) were female; 56% were Hispanic; and 27% African American. Youth were sent 40,006 messages of which 16,501 were considered bi-directional where youth were asked to text a response. Four-fifths (82%) responded at least once to a text. We found variations in response frequency by gender, age, and ethnicity. The most popular types of messages youth responded to include questions and quizzes. The first two months of the program in each year had the highest response frequency. An important next step is to assess whether higher response to SMS results in greater efficacy. This future work can facilitate greater attention to message design and content to ensure messages are engaging for the intended audience.

Keywords: Health behavior; SMS engagement; SMS programs; SMS response; Text messaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Automation
  • Cell Phone
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Participation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / prevention & control*
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Text Messaging*