November 18, 2009 / 7:44 AM / 10 years ago

R u wearing sunscreen? Text reminders can double usage

Beachgoers watch the sun set at Kuta beach in Bali, Indonesia August 24, 2009. REUTERS/Sharon Lee

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Texting people to remind them to wear sunscreen daily actually works, research shows.

Researchers found people who got text messages each morning with a weather report and prompt like “slap on some sunscreen today” were twice as likely to use sunscreen.

Even so study participants receiving a reminder still went without sunscreen for about four in 10 days on average, the researchers from the University of California-Davis Health System in Sacramento report in the Archives of Dermatology. Researcher April Armstrong said the findings from a study of 70 tech-savvy adults show that “we can use simple low cost technologies such as text message reminders to improve healthy habits” such as using sunblock to protect against skin cancer.

Getting people to take their pills or use medicated cream as prescribed is a perennial problem for doctors, she added, and sunscreen is no exception with just one in five Americans reporting using sunscreen regularly.

The study involved splitting participants into two groups — those receiving text reminders and those who did not. All of them were given sunscreen dispensers with electronic sensors that sent the date and time back to a central server every time it was used.

“We could actually track in real time when people are using their sunscreen,” said Armstrong.

Over the course of 42 days, people in the text-message group used sunscreen on about 24 days on average, for an adherence rate of 56 percent, compared to about 13 days for the group without reminders, or a 30 percent adherence rate.

Sixty-nine percent of the people who got the reminders said they would want to keep using them.

Reporting by Anne Harding of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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