Text Messaging Data Collection for Monitoring an Infant Feeding Intervention Program in Rural China: Feasibility Study

Ye Li, Wei Wang, Michelle Helena van Velthoven, Li Chen, Josip Car, Igor Rudan, Yanfeng Zhang*, Qiong Wu, Xiaozhen Du, Robert W. Scherpbier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: An effective data collection method is crucial for high quality monitoring of health interventions. The traditional face-to-face data collection method is labor intensive, expensive, and time consuming. With the rapid increase of mobile phone subscribers, text messaging has the potential to be used for evaluation of population health interventions in rural China.

Objective: The objective of this study was to explore the feasibility of using text messaging as a data collection tool to monitor an infant feeding intervention program.

Methods: Participants were caregivers of children aged 0 to 23 months in rural China who participated in an infant feeding health education program. We used the test-retest method. First, we collected data with a text messaging survey and then with a face-to-face survey for 2 periods of 3 days. We compared the response rate, data agreement, costs, and participants' acceptability of the two methods. Also, we interviewed participants to explore their reasons for not responding to the text messages and the reasons for disagreement in the two methods. In addition, we evaluated the most appropriate time during the day for sending text messages.

Results: We included 258 participants; 99 (38.4%) participated in the text messaging survey and 177 (68.6%) in the face-to-face survey. Compared with the face-to-face survey, the text messaging survey had much lower response rates to at least one question (38.4% vs 68.6%) and to all 7 questions (27.9% vs 67.4%) with moderate data agreement (most kappa values between .5 and .75, the intraclass correlation coefficients between .53 to .72). Participants who took part in both surveys gave the same acceptability rating for both methods (median 4.0 for both on a 5-point scale, 1=disliked very much and 5=liked very much). The costs per questionnaire for the text messaging method were much lower than the costs for the face-to-face method: (sic)19.7 (US $3.13) versus (sic)33.9 (US $5.39) for all questionnaires, and (sic)27.1 (US $4.31) versus (sic)34.4 (US $5.47) for completed questionnaires. The main reasons for not replying were that participants did not receive text messages, they were too busy to reply, or they did not see text messages in time. The main reasons for disagreement in responses were that participants forgot their answers in the text messaging survey and that they changed their minds. We found that participants were more likely to reply to text messages immediately during 2 time periods: 8 AM to 3 PM and 8 PM to 9 PM.

Conclusions: The text messaging method had reasonable data agreement and low cost, but a low response rate. Further research is needed to evaluate effectiveness of measures that can increase the response rate, especially in collecting longitudinal data by text messaging.

Original languageEnglish
Article number269
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • text messaging
  • data collection
  • program evaluation
  • child nutrition sciences
  • PAIN
  • SMS

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