Health apps can in­spire young peo­ple

Daily Dispatch - - News - CLAIRE KEETON

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,” it said.

“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.”

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”.

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. —

POS­I­TIVE USE: Some health apps have proven use­ful for young peo­ple who de­sire to live a healthy life­style.

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