Social media `may help overcome childhood obesity`

Social media may be an effective tool to help children overcome obesity, researchers say.

Updated: Dec 06, 2012, 10:15 AM IST

Johannesburg: Social media may be an effective tool to help children overcome obesity, researchers say.

“Online communication and social media are an increasing part of our lives and our overall social network of family, friends and peers,” News24 quoted Jennifer S. Li, chair of the group that wrote the new American Heart Association scientific statement, as saying

“Healthcare providers should embrace its potential as a tool for promoting healthy behavioural change,” she said.

The writing group evaluated research on Internet-based interventions to lose weight, increase physical activity and improve eating habits.

“The studies we looked at suggest that more parental involvement and more interaction with counsellors and peers was associated with greater success rates for overweight children and teens who participated in an online intervention,” Li said.

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 counsellor or support group, and the frequency with which kids and adolescents logged on and used the programmes.

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.

About 95 percent of 12 to 17-year-old children have Internet access at home and/or in school, so online social network health interventions should be explored as an effective way to prevent or manage excessive weight, 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,” she added.

The study has been published online in the journal Circulation.