Bowen to test text messaging as a tool to make older African Americans more active

Increased use of mobile technology at the heart of $10,000 RCMAR Pilot Grant

By Jimmy Creed

Bowen Pam 3The use of mobile technology among older adults in the United States has increased over the last 10 years and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing Assistant Professor Pamela Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC, hopes to prove that this growing form of communication can be used to motivate aging African Americans to increase their physical activity.

Despite continued emphasis on being active and recommendations from governmental agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that older adults participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity almost daily, most are still underactive. This is particularly true among African Americans, especially women, and Bowen wants to change that.

Thanks to a 2015 Deep South Resource Center for Minority Aging (RCMAR) Pilot Grant award of $10,000 for one year, Bowen hopes her study “Physical Activity Text Message Library for Older African-American Adults” can lead to the development of a system that will help encourage older African Americans to become more physically active.

“There is a dire need to develop interventions to increase physical activity and to meet national physical activity objectives for older adults, especially African American women who are more likely to remain inactive,” Bowen said. “With the increased growth of cell phone usage, especially among African Americans, text messaging offers a promising strategy to improve health behaviors, particularly physical activity.”

Citing studies from the Pew Research Center, Bowen notes that 57 percent of people age 65 and older are cell phone users and that nearly 87 percent of African Americans own cell phones and are more likely to use text messaging compared to Caucasians. She also notes research has shown that approximately 88 percent of adults age 50 and older send text messages daily and that 59.6 percent of adults age 65 to 69 as well as 45 percent of adults age 85 and older use this form of communication almost daily.

Bowen also notes that, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, the use of mobile technology in this demographic has increased 8 percent since early 2014 and is expected to continue to increase as younger generations age.

For this study, Bowen will try a novel approach that involves word of mouth recruitment to form a total of four focus groups of approximately 30 older women from two predominantly African-American churches in the Birmingham area.

Bowen and two focus groups will develop rough draft physical activity text messages based on existing materials related to physical activity from various sources to determine if the information is appropriate for older adults and based on the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The focus groups will review the text messages for language and appeal of the message (positive, emotional, humorous or threat) and provide feedback to refine and develop the text messages that will comprise the physical activity library.

Once the text messages are developed, Bowen will conduct a two-week intervention with the last two focus groups. The intervention will consist of the women receiving the previously developed text messages for two weeks. Once this is complete, the women will provide specific feedback regarding their perceptions and acceptability of the text messages as well as which messages motivate physical activity.

“Regular physical activity in the older adult can promote feelings of well-being, improve stamina and maintain healthy bones and joints,” Bowen said. “Conversely physical inactivity continues to be a concern and is both harmful to health and costly.

“The financial burden that inadequate physical activity places on the United States is approximately 12.5 percent of health-care costs, which is roughly $131 billion per year. Text messaging is a common, everyday, low-cost approach to communication that may help address this vital health issue, which makes this approach feasible.”

Bowen is a three-time graduate of the UAB School of Nursing, earning her bachelor’s of science in nursing in 1988, her master’s of science in nursing in 1992 and her doctor of philosophy in nursing in 2012. Her research focus includes combating obesity in older African American women through physical activity, health policy and lifestyle changes. 

Read 7893 times Last modified on November 13, 2015

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