Social media may become an important weapon in the battle against childhood obesity, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement published in Circulation. However, the statement acknowledges that the evidence so far from published social media intervention studies has been “mixed” and that social media is also associated with troublesome drawbacks.
The statement delivers an overview of recent research in the role of social networks in health and obesity, and it reviews intervention strategies that employ various forms of social media. Because children are increasingly drawn to it, social media represents “natural points for intervention,” but the statement cautions that “identifying and measuring outcomes would be difficult.”
“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,” said Jennifer S. Li, the chair of the writing group, in an AHA press release.
As an example of the delicate balance required in this area, the statement notes that children prefer texting over traditional paper diaries, but it also warns that social media plays a role in cyber bullying, privacy issues, sexting, and internet addiction. “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,” said Li.
“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. But the statement also acknowledges that the results of the few randomized trials of internet-based obesity interventions have been “mixed.”