by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The National Institutes of Health is spending more than $400,000 sending text messages to Latino men to encourage them to exercise.
The University of California, San Diego is conducting the study, which is attempting to employ the “low-cost” strategy of using cell phones to reach Mexican-Americans.
“Mexican-American men report high rates of inactivity and related health conditions. The proposed study seeks to promote physical activity among this at-risk, understudied population by developing interactive and tailored text-messages to enhance a print-based physical activity intervention for Spanish- speaking [Mexican American] MA men,” a grant for the project said. “The proposed high-reach, low-cost strategy for increasing physical activity has great potential for adoption on a larger scale and thereby positively impacting public health and eliminating health disparities.”
Latino men “may have limited access to public health interventions promoting physical activity,” according to the project, and there is a “dearth of studies in this area.”
“To address these rising health disparities, effective interventions that leverage state-of-the-art technology, theory, and methods are needed for [Mexican-American] MA men,” the grant said.
The project is based on a preliminary study using “culturally and linguistically tailored” print campaigns to encourage Latino men to exercise.
Only 40 percent of the participants met the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week and 30 percent did not exercise at all after reading the materials. The researchers decided to add text messages to the intervention at the suggestion of the trial study participants.
The study will conduct focus groups with Latino men to “identify cultural themes” to use in the text messages. Sixty Mexican-Americans will then be enrolled in the study for six months. The results will be compared with other men who do not receive text messages in their exercise education program.
The project has cost taxpayers $406,875 so far.