Regular, health-focused text messages can prevent type 2 diabetes, according to new research out of India.
The finding isn’t as odd as it may sound. A central challenge in modern medicine is providing patients with truly individualized attention. Amazing technology and resources can be deployed to help those in crisis situations, but efforts to prevent disease and encourage healthy living are often overlooked.
As a result, scientists and health professionals around the world are studying ways to keep people healthier and living longer-by novel means, if necessary. After all, visiting a doctor for preventative care can be expensive, and much of the world’s population can’t afford such an appointment. A text message-even if it’s the same advice sent to many people-can feel like individual attention.
So how did this particular study work? According to results published in the Sept. 11, 2013, issue of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, scientists looked at 537 patients, divided randomly into two groups. One of the groups received the text messages, and the other did not. Twenty-seven percent of those in the control group developed type 2 diabetes, but only 18 percent of the text-message group did.
According to the researchers, it took 11 text messages to prevent a single case of type 2 diabetes. They concluded that, “Mobile phone messaging is an effective and acceptable method to deliver advice and support towards lifestyle modification to prevent type 2 diabetes in men at high risk.”
We can expect to see more of these efforts in the future. The widespread use of cell phones- either with simple features like text messaging or advanced apps-will allow patients to monitor their health ever more carefully.
The basic contradiction at the heart of these efforts is that the best treatment for a disease is to avoid getting that disease. And it’s not entirely the modern medical system’s fault. As people, we’re hardwired to concentrate on the here and now, to react to any immediate threats. The long-term hazards posed by diet and a sedentary lifestyle are difficult to get excited about.
A diabetes diagnosis isn’t the end of the world. But wouldn’t it be nice not to get to that point at all?