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WASHINGTON: Cellphone use has the potential to improve the health of low-income, urban women at risk for diabetes and other diseases during their childbearing years, a new study has found.

In a survey of a diverse group of almost 250 young, low-income, inner-city pregnant and postpartum women in the US, researchers found that more than 90 per cent used smartphones or regular cellphones to give and get information.

Cellphones stand out by far as the preferred technology that these women, regardless of race or ethnic background, use, researchers said.

For the study, the team surveyed a cross section of women attending one of four obstetric or pediatric clinics at Johns Hopkins Medicine’s two hospitals in US. Among the study participants, 40 per cent were African-American, 28 per cent were Latina and 23 per cent were white. Fewer than 10 per cent were of other ethnic groups.

Clinical researcher Wendy Bennett, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that the survey participants also reflected the increased health risks of their neighbourhoods and reproductive years.

Roughly 7 per cent of the women had adult diabetes, 11 per cent had gestational diabetes – often a precursor to adult diabetes, 11 per cent had high blood pressure in pregnancy and 56 per cent were obese just before getting pregnant.

“Pregnancy and the year after delivery – when women must see a doctor – give us a window of opportunity to lock in lifelong preventive health behaviours for them and their families,” Bennett said.

“But these opportunities are often missed because many women do not return for care or stay engaged with providers. If we could better understand their use of information and communication technology, we could likely design more appropriate, culturally sensitive ways to reach and help them,” Bennett said.

Smartphone use was roughly one-third more common for African-American women than Latinas, the study showed. In general, Internet use by any means to find health information was lowest for Latinas, at 51 per cent, with African-Americans at 79 per cent and whites at 87 per cent.

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