Social Media Helps Childhood Obesity
(Ivanhoe Newswire) – If your child spends a lot of time chatting on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter, it may be a good thing. Social media could be an effective tool in helping children overcome obesity, according to an American Heart Association statement published online in the association’s journal Circulation.
About 95 percent of children ages 12 to 17 have Internet access, so online social network health interventions should be explored to prevent or manage excessive weight, said Jennifer S. Li, M.D., M.H.S. and chair of the writing group.
"Healthcare providers should embrace its potential as a tool for promoting healthy behavioral change." The writing group evaluated research on Internet-based interventions to lose weight, increase physical activity and improve eating habits, according to the statement.
"The studies we looked at suggest that more parental involvement and more interaction with counselors and peers was associated with greater success rates for overweight children and teens who participated in an online intervention," said Li, who is also division chief of pediatric cardiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
Variables that influenced success were whether the rest of the family was involved in the intervention, the degree of back-and-forth communication and feedback with a counselor or support group, and the frequency with which kids and adolescents logged on and used the programs.
People who are overweight or obese tend to share a home or spend their leisure time with others who are overweight or obese, according to research.
"Athletes tend to hang out with athletes, and overweight kids hang out together so they reinforce each other's eating habits or preferences for recreational activities," Li said.
"Some research shows that even in virtual social networks, people tend to associate with others like themselves," Li said. "So if you develop a network of kids who are overweight, you can have an impact on all of them — in the real world and online — because if one starts making healthy changes, the others will be influenced to do so as well."
However, there are some dangers in using social media, according to the statement, and they include exposure to cyber bullying, privacy issues, sexting and Internet addiction that can cause sleep deprivation, Li said.
"Doctors need to understand digital technology better so that they can offer guidance to patients and their families on avoiding such issues, and will be aware of any such problems that occur," Li said.
The authors recommend policy makers focus on privacy protection and monitor outcomes in order to harness the strength of a health promotion social network that initiates and sustains behavior changes such self-monitoring, goal-setting and problem-solving.
"Teenagers are texting and using Facebook and other social media as their primary communication with their peers, and we need to find out what factors can be incorporated into social media that will increase the effectiveness of these interventions to initiate and maintain weight loss in kids and adolescents," Li said.
According to the statement, more research is needed to provide data on overweight and obese adolescents to determine whether differences in gender, ethnicity, geographic location and socioeconomic status affect social-media use and technology-based interventions.
SOURCE: American Heart Association: Circulation, December 2012
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