Texting and mobile phone app interventions for improving adherence to preventive behavior in adolescents: A systematic review

Sherif M. Badawy*, Lisa M. Kuhns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Background: Many preventable behaviors contribute to adolescent mortality and morbidity. Non-adherence to preventive measures represents a challenge and has been associated with worse health outcomes in this population. The widespread use of electronic communication technologies by adolescents, particularly the use of text messaging (short message service, SMS) and mobile phones, presents new opportunities to intervene on risk and preventive risk behavior, but little is known about their efficacy. Objective: This study aimed to systematically evaluate evidence for the efficacy of text messaging and mobile phone app interventions to improve adherence to preventive behavior among adolescents and describe intervention approaches to inform intervention development. Methods: This review covers literature published between 1995 and 2015. Searches included PubMed, Embase, CENTRAL, PsycINFO, CINAHL, INSPEC, Web of Science, Google Scholar, and additional databases. The search strategy sought articles on text messaging and mobile phone apps combined with adherence or compliance, and adolescents and youth. An additional hand search of related themes in the Journal of Medical Internet Research was also conducted. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts, assessed full-text articles, and extracted data from articles that met inclusion criteria. Included studies reflect original research—experimental or preexperimental designs with text messaging or mobile phone app interventions—targeting adherence to preventive behavior among adolescents (12-24 years old). The preferred reporting items of systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed for reporting results, and findings were critically appraised against the Oxford Centre for Evidence-based Medicine criteria. Results: Of 1454 records, 19 met inclusion criteria, including text messaging (n=15) and mobile phone apps (n=4). Studies targeted clinic attendance, contraceptive use, oral health, physical activity and weight management, sun protection, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, smoking cessation, and sexual health. Most studies were performed in the United States (47%, 9/19), included younger adolescents (63%, 12/19), and had sample size <100 (63%, 12/19). Although most studies were randomized controlled trials (RCTs; 58%, 11/19), only 5 followed an intent-to-treat analysis. Only 6 of 19 studies (32%) incorporated a theoretical framework in their design. Most studies reported good feasibility with high acceptability and satisfaction. About half of the included studies (42%, 8/19) demonstrated significant improvement in preventive behavior with moderate standardized mean differences. As early efforts in this field to establish feasibility and initial efficacy, most studies were low to moderate in quality. Studies varied in sample size and methods of preventive behavior adherence or outcome assessment, which prohibited performing a meta-analysis. Conclusions: Despite the promising feasibility and acceptability of text messaging and mobile phone apps in improving preventive behavior among adolescents, overall findings were modest in terms of efficacy. Further research evaluating the efficacy, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of these intervention approaches in promoting preventive behavior among adolescents is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere50
JournalJMIR Mhealth Uhealth
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Adolescent
  • Behavior
  • Medication adherence
  • Mobile applications
  • Mobile phone
  • Prevention
  • Smartphone
  • Text messaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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