It’s a N0-BRAINER! Texting Youth for Health


I’m so excited about text campaigns for health! There is plenty of good data showing that they work for adults (see example of how text campaigns bring down healthcare costs for patients with diabetes), but there is even more evidence that text campaigns are effective for youth. AND – according to the PEW research center US Smart Phone Use in 2015, those with low household incomes, and non-whites are more likely to rely on smartphones for online access. Because much of my work centers around empowering ethnic minority youth from low-income communities in the US to embrace health, I think text message campaigns could be such a wonderful addition and accompaniment to the in-person interventions I run.  It’s a NO BRAINER! I’ve got to start including text campaigns with my programs.

Hooray! I can’t wait to try this out.
In order to get up to speed on the text campaign world, I signed up for 2 campaigns.

I) Text Talk Act! 
Why this one? I signed up for Text Talk Act because I have found that around the country – regardless of which geographic location, the high school students I work with are consistently interested in learning more about mental health. This past Spring, when my youth Health Career Academy participants in Atlanta were given the opportunity to present any health topic at a finale presentation, 50% chose to present about mental health.
What I learned from first text:
embedding links to short youtube videos in a text really works!
The first text I got was a link to this fantastic short video about the problem of “not talking” about mental illness:

I LOVED THIS. Not only did it grab my attention right away, but it made me look forward to getting more texts from them because the video was great and short – 2 things I really like in a video.

II) Youth Info ythinfoshareable
This text campaign sends weekly texts for youth about sexual health. Their campaign includes knowledge as well as advice about communication.
What I learned from the first text:
Don’t waste my attention when I first sign up! When I sent the text message to get started, I received a standard “Welcome to YTHINFO” text without any helpful health information or interesting link to capture my attention. In the moment that I sign up, the program really has my attention – so it would be a great time to send something you really want the audience to know or learn – or at least something to make me think I will enjoy the campaign.


I want to set up a text messaging campaign for the youth in my Stanford Youth Diabetes Coaches Program which is a diabetes-coaches-class-picture-problem-solvingprogram I developed and manage.  In this program, the youth learn to become diabetes coaches for a family member with diabetes.  Family Medicine residents provide a scripted curriculum to the students once a week for 8 weeks in which youth learn coaching skills (communication, problem solving, and setting achievable health goals) and diabetes knowledge. The youth meet with their family members with diabetes once a week during the program. Youth participants and family members set a health goal each week.

My goal with the text messaging campaign is to send messages during the program to remind students of coaching skills and knowledge learned, as well as reminding them about their health goals.

From what I have gathered from such resources as the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, the texts need to be:

  1. short and crisp
  2. relevant and accessible
  3. entertaining
  4. created or inspired by and approved by the youth who will receive them

What kind of texts would inspire you?


3 thoughts on “It’s a N0-BRAINER! Texting Youth for Health

  1. Hi, Liana. As usual, your blog is well-written and the images and video complement the text well and are well placed on the page.

    You’ve made a really good point about not wasting the opportunity of the introductory text – nor people’s time in reading something that conveys no real information. I always get irritated by automatic messages that don’t either inform me or inspire me to act. You’ve asked for advice, so I shall point you to this resource from CDC – – which reads as though it’s for internal use, but contains some useful principles for text campaigns, including integrating your text message campaign into a wider communications strategy (as you are) and being clear about your objectives for the campaign before you start. You have stated a goal for your text campaign, but not an objective in terms of outcomes. Perhaps thinking about what you want the students to do after reading each text might sharpen the idea and help you to draft the message content more clearly. Another good example is to avoid using abbreviations, unless these are common and easily understood. I have also read that it’s better to avoid textspeak in text message campaigns. Apparently, both textspeak and abbreviations can be confusing and cause miscommunication and the textspeak can be annoying to some people.

    Good luck with your programme.

    • I also remember reading (sorry, I don’t remember where) that text campaigns are more effective when the recipient has to reply to the text and that questions are less engaging than information. So, if you include pertinent information, a call to action and get the students to reply to your texts, it should increase the effectiveness of your campaign.

  2. Your post really brings mobile communications to life. I like how you walked us through what you learned and tried and share your takeaways. It is helpful how you included how you plan to incorporate what you learned into your program. I think the video was great! We really do need to start talking about mental health. World Mental Health Day is October 10 (only two months away) and is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting action. I am so impressed with how many of your students are interested in mental health and openly talking about it! According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the onset of half of mental illnesses occur by 14 years of age and 75% occur by age 24. “Thus, mental disorders are really the chronic diseases of the young” ( With one in four people suffering from a mental illness, mobile mental health campaigns are the perfect way to reach our youth to address issues important to them. Great post!

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