African Health Sciences

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Cell phone–based health education messaging improves health literacy

Runsen Zhuang, Yueying Xiang, Tieguang Han, Guo-An Yang, Yuan Zhang


Background: The ubiquity of cell phones, which allow for short message service (SMS), provides new and innovative opportunities for disease prevention and health education.

Objective: To explore the use of cell phone–based health education SMS to improve the health literacy of community residents in China.

Methods: A multi-stage random sampling method was used to select representative study communities and participants ≥ 18 years old. Intervention participants were sent health education SMSs once a week for 1 year and controls were sent conventional, basic health education measures. Health literacy levels of the residents before and after the intervention were evaluated between intervention and control groups.

Results: Public health literacy scores increased 1.5 points, from 61.8 to 63.3, after SMS intervention for 1 year (P<0.01); the increase was greater for males than females (2.01 vs. 1.03; P<0.01) and for Shenzhen local residents than non permanent residents (2.56 vs. 1.14; P<0.01). The frequency of high health literacy scores was greater for the intervention than control group (22.03% to 30.93% vs. 22.07% to 20.82%). With health literacy as a cost-effective index, the cost-effectiveness per intervention was 0.54.

Conclusion: SMS may be a useful tool for improving health literacy.

Keywords: Health literacy, intervention, community residents, cell phone, short message service
AJOL African Journals Online