A new study has shown that sending and receiving text messages can help obese children lose weight.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that teens using mobile phones to monitor their diet and physical activity levels were more likely to stick with weight-management programmes than those using paper diaries or nothing at all.

A total of 31 families were given pedometers to track the number of steps they took each day, as well as goals to meet for the number of steps taken, minutes of screen time (TV or computer) and number of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed per day.

Text appeal

Kids in the SMS message group were asked to send two texts each day detailing their habits. These triggered immediate, automated return messages based on how many fizzy pops they owned up to.

The other children just noted their exercise and drink consumption in paper diaries, or not at all.

Remarkably, children in the text messaging group had a lower attrition rate from the study (28 per cent) than both the paper diary (61 per cent) and the control group (50 per cent). They also were better at self-monitoring than the paper diary group, 43 per cent versus 19 per cent.

"Mobile phone text messaging is something that's very familiar to most children now, since they've grown up with it," said Dr Jennifer Shapiro, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. "By using this technology, we were hoping to make self-monitoring seem more like fun to them and less like work."

US studies show that about 19 per cent of youths aged 6 to 11 are overweight, and that 80 per cent of overweight adolescents become obese adults.