National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Nudging Adolescents Toward Safer Food Allergy
Management Using Text Messages and Financial Incentives: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Among the 15 million people with food allergies in the United States, adolescents experience the highest risk of adverse events, including death from anaphylaxis. Visits to one pediatric emergency department for anaphylaxis doubled between 2001 and 2006, suggesting a rapidly escalating public health burden. Despite this critical concern, there are few evidence-based strategies to improve food allergy management in adolescents, who must sustain three core prevention strategies: diligent avoidance of allergenic foods, consistent carrying of potentially life-saving epinephrine auto-injectors, and prompt administration of epinephrine in the event of anaphylaxis.

The objective of this project is to develop and test interventions to encourage safer food allergy management among adolescents. The primary outcome is consistency of epinephrine-carrying, measured using cell phone photographs at randomly-timed check-ins. This study will be among the first to longitudinally track normative food allergy management practices and one of the first to test behavior change strategies. This study is the necessary next step toward a definitive nationwide longitudinal study of food allergy management in adolescents.

In a cohort multiple randomized controlled trial (n=130), the study will include two experiments to test the effectiveness of text message reminders and financial incentives, using various incentive designs that have proven effective in prior behavioral economics interventions to encourage weight loss and smoking cessation. Aim 1. Test the impact of a text-message reminder system on consistency of epinephrine carrying. Aim 2. Test the impact of modest financial incentives on consistency of epinephrine carrying. Based on promising preliminary data, the central hypothesis is that, compared to controls, adolescents who receive text message reminders plus modest financial incentives will more consistently carry their epinephrine.