Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title







Background: Mobile health (mHealth) interventions are a potentially feasible way of targeting emerging adult college students' physical and mental health concerns, decreasing health-risk, and augmenting health promoting behaviors. However, there is limited evidence attesting to advantageous ways of designing mHealth treatments in a manner that is apt to be well-received by emerging adult college students at large, and gender, racial, and ethnic subgroups in particular. To address these research gaps, this exploratory study examined general trends, and gender (male, female), racial (White, Black), and ethnic (Latino, non-Latino) differences, in emerging adult college students' mobile technology ownership and phone plan characteristics, technology use behaviors, and mHealth text message preferences.

Methods: Participants included 1,371 college students aged 18 to 25 (20.54±1.80) years. Between July 2015 and April 2016, students from three universities in the Mid-Atlantic United States completed an online survey assessing technology use. Descriptive statistics and chi-square tests were run to answer primary study questions.

Results: Results suggest that students frequently engage with mobile devices and inherent features. Overall, nearly all (99.5%) students owned smartphones, 89.5% had long-term phone contracts, 94.6% had unlimited texting, and 38.6% reported having unlimited data plans. Further, 96.8% reported texting, 92.0% accessing email, 97.3% accessing the internet, and 97.2% using apps on their mobile devices at least once per day. When asked about the types of text messages they would prefer to receive in the context of mHealth interventions, most students preferred messages that did not contain textese, were longer vs. shorter, contained a single vs. multiple exclamation marks, had a smiley face emoticon, used capitalization for emphatic purposes, contained a statement vs. a question, were polite in tone, and were non-directive. There was also multiple gender, racial, and ethnic group differences in mobile device ownership and plan attributes, usage patterns, and text message preferences.

Conclusions: The present research provides evidence that smartphones are commonly used by college students and may be a feasible platform for health intervention delivery among diverse student groups. mHealth interventions could use the present results to inform the design of future mHealth interventions and, in turn, increase the acceptability, usability, and efficacy of such treatments for college students at large and diverse student groups in particular.


© mHealth 2019. Included with the written permission of the publisher. Publisher's version of article available at:

Original Publication Citation

Heron, K. E., Romano, K. A., & Braitman, A. L. (2019). Mobile technology use and mHealth text message preferences: an examination of gender, racial, and ethnic differences among emerging adult college students. mHealth, 5, 1-13. doi:10.21037/mhealth.2019.01.01


0000-0003-2259-1094 (Braitman)