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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What's in a message? Delivering sexual health promotion to young people in Australia via text messaging

Judy Gold12*, Megan SC Lim1, Margaret E Hellard123, Jane S Hocking4 and Louise Keogh4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

2 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

3 The Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

4 Centre for Women's Health, Gender and Society, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:792  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-792

Published: 29 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Advances in communication technologies have dramatically changed how individuals access information and communicate. Recent studies have found that mobile phone text messages (SMS) can be used successfully for short-term behaviour change. However there is no published information examining the acceptability, utility and efficacy of different characteristics of health promotion SMS. This paper presents the results of evaluation focus groups among participants who received twelve sexual health related SMS as part of a study examining the impact of text messaging for sexual health promotion to on young people in Victoria, Australia.

Methods

Eight gender-segregated focus groups were held with 21 males and 22 females in August 2008. Transcripts of audio recordings were analysed using thematic analysis. Data were coded under one or more themes.

Results

Text messages were viewed as an acceptable and 'personal' means of health promotion, with participants particularly valuing the informal language. There was a preference for messages that were positive, relevant and short and for messages to cover a variety of topics. Participants were more likely to remember and share messages that were funny, rhymed and/or tied into particular annual events. The message broadcasting, generally fortnightly on Friday afternoons, was viewed as appropriate. Participants said the messages provided new information, a reminder of existing information and reduced apprehension about testing for sexually transmitted infections.

Conclusions

Mobile phones, in particular SMS, offer health promoters an exciting opportunity to engage personally with a huge number of individuals for low cost. The key elements emerging from this evaluation, such as message style, language and broadcast schedule are directly relevant to future studies using SMS for health promotion, as well as for future health promotion interventions in other mediums that require short formats, such as social networking sites.