Believe it or not: Teens use screens to get healthy
Youngsters are into wellness apps, and are good at picking the best ones, say researchers
Not all screen time is bad – parents take note! A new study finds roughly one in three British teens uses exercise, diet and wellness apps to improve their health.
There are about 160,000 health apps available but most of them are designed for adults, said lead researcher Dr Victoria Goodyear, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Young people, however, are savvy about working out what health-related apps are appropriate for their age and bodies, and dismissing content with the potential to harm them, the researchers reported.
Pursuing digital health-related activities can be less intimidating for young people than engaging in them in “communal spaces”, they found.
A survey of 13-18-year-olds in the UK by the university’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences found that a third of the group of 245 were active users of health-related apps, technologies and devices.
“Schools, PE lessons and sport, peers and parents were powerful influencers over the types of apps and devices young people used, but many of the participants were able to disregard content that was either irrelevant to them, potentially harmful to their bodies, or simply ‘boring’,” said Goodyear.
The adolescents thought about their app use in an informed way and abandoned apps or technologies focused on adult needs, the study showed.
“They had very high levels of knowledge and understanding of health-related apps and were able to engage with the technologies on a trial-and-error basis, either dismissing or adopting the apps.”
Goodyear said: “Health apps and devices have the potential to act as very engaging and attractive health promotion tools that could, for example, help young people to learn about their bodies or improve their physical activity levels.
“Our research has shown that young people think through their uses of health apps and devices in impressive and well-informed ways.
“For some young people, they use apps to find information related to their bodies, and they can do this without an adult, and in ways that work around the school pressures of homework.”
But not all of them had positive impacts and some teens were misled about what was effective, she said. “There was evidence in our data that some young people learnt that effective exercises were those that ‘hurt’ and resulted in pain.
“For some, these tend to be a novelty period – where the use of apps are rarely sustained – such as in the case of Pokemon Go. For others, they can develop very narrow views on health.”
Goodyear said the results showed that adults should be “more understanding of the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls of digital technologies for young people’s health and wellbeing”.
“We should not associate technology with, solely, health-related risks. Certainly, health education can be enhanced by learning from the ways in which young people access, select and use digital health technologies,” said Goodyear.
Popular fitness and wellness apps in SA include Strava (particularly among runners and cyclists) and MyFitnessPal , for people to track their nutrition.
The research was published on Wednesday in the journal Learning, Media and Technology.