February 5, 2010 — The White House on Thursday announced a new health education program that will deliver pregnancy advice to women via text messages, the Los Angeles Times' "Technology" reports (Guynn, "Technology," Los Angeles Times, 2/4). The program -- called "text4baby" -- is sponsored by the federal government, the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, wireless providers and several health industry companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, WellPoint and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
The campaign is reportedly the first national no-cost health education program using cell phones, which are owned by 90% of U.S. residents, sponsors say. Paul Meyer, president of Voxiva -- which operates health texting programs in Africa, India and Latin America -- said that cell phones are particularly effective for reaching low-income people (Perrone, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/3).
According to The Hill's "Hillicon Valley," text messaging was chosen as the medium for the program because of its popularity among women of childbearing age and minority women (Hart, "Hillicon Valley," The Hill, 2/4). Voxiva will provide the wireless platform for the text4baby service ("Technology," Los Angeles Times, 2/4). AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have agreed to allow no-cost texts for women who use the service.
Under the program, women who text the word "baby" to the number 511411 will receive weekly text messages timed to coincide with their expected delivery date (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/3). Messages will also be available in Spanish by texting the word "bebe" ("Hillicon Valley," The Hill, 2/4). The messages -- which have been approved by government and not-for-profit health officials -- focus on topics like nutrition, immunization and birth defect prevention.
Reducing Preterm Births
The program is intended to reduce premature births. Certain maternal behaviors -- such as smoking, drinking alcohol and poor nutrition -- can contribute to early births. Roughly 500,000 infants are born preterm in the U.S. each year, and 28,000 infants die before their first birthday, according to HMHB. The U.S. ranks 30th worldwide for infant mortality, behind many Western European nations, HMHB Director Judy Meehan said (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/3).
"Text4baby represents an extraordinary opportunity to expand the way we use our phones, to demonstrate the potential of mobile health technology," Aneesh Chopra, the nation's chief technology officer, said in a statement ("Technology," Los Angeles Times, 2/4). The White House Office of Science and Technology and HHS will collaborate with the other sponsors to operate the program ("Hillicon Valley," The Hill, 2/4). Researchers from George Washington University will evaluate the program's effectiveness by measuring health trends for women and newborns (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/3).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership