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Adapting a Database of Text Messages to a Mobile-Based Weight Loss Program: The Case of the Middle East

DOI: 10.1155/2014/658149

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Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. Qatar, a rapidly developing country in the Middle East, has seen a sharp increase in the prevalence of obesity. The increase can be attributed to several reasons, including sedentary lifestyles imposed by a harsh climate and the introduction of Western fast food. Mobile technologies have been used and studied as a technology to support individuals’ weight loss. The authors have developed a mobile application that implements three strategies drawn from proven theories of behavioral change. The application is localized to the cultural context of its proposed users. The objective of this paper is to present a method through which we adapted the messaging content of a weight loss application to the context of its users while retaining an effective degree of automation. The adaptation addressed body image, eating and physical exercise habits, and regional/cultural needs. The paper discusses how surveying potential users can be used to build a profile of a target population, find common patterns, and then develop a database of text messages. The text messages are automated and sent to the users at specific times of day, as suggested by the survey results. 1. Introduction Tackling the weight issue is a significant undertaking. Worldwide, the number of obese people has doubled in the past 20 years [1]. We explored ways in which mobile technologies can be adapted to meet environmental and cultural norms and thereby support individuals in their effort to lose weight. In this paper, we examine the case of the Middle East through the example of Qatar. According to the International Association for the Study of Obesity, the numbers for obesity for the Qatari population are alarming. The association ranks the country sixth on its list of the most obese countries worldwide. The numbers presented in [2] (cited by [3]) were overwhelming: for the 25–65 age group, 34.6% of the men were obese and 34.3% were overweight. For females in the same age group, 45.3% were obese and 33% were overweight. The figures are also alarming for children: [4] (cited by [3]) found that in the 12–17 age group, 28.7% of boys were overweight and 7.6% were obese. Additionally, 20.3% of the girls in the same age group were overweight and 4.5% were obese. A more recent study in Qatar [5] suggests slightly lower figures among children of 2–19 years old, but still a much higher percentage than the current 16.9% for American children in this age group as reported by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) [6]. Despite this disparity, the

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