Kids are online anyway, so why not fight obesity with social media?

As obesity and diabetes rates among children continue to skyrocket, medical professionals are scrambling to come up with new types of health interventions.

And while things like after-school sports or cooking meals at home might help kids learn healthier habits, a recent statement from the American Heart Association suggests we target kids where they spend the bulk of their time: online.

"Online communication and social media are an increasing part of our lives and our overall social network of family, friends and peers," said Jennifer S. Li, M.D., M.H.S., chair of the writing group that published the statement.

Online interventions can work, but they require parental involvement

According to health experts, studies on childhood obesity suggest that online interventions can indeed work--but that their success is highly dependent upon parental involvement, peer support and consistent back-and-forth online communication.

Li notes that about 95 percent of teens have Internet access in the home or at school, making online interventions a cheaper, more widely available option for reaching overweight children and preventing life-altering diseases like diabetes.

"Healthcare providers should embrace its potential as a tool for promoting healthy behavioral change," Li said.

The ripple effect with peers and family members

The statement also noted that obese children tend to associate with a network of friends or family members who are also obese--a factor that can be detrimental to positive change, as negative habits become reinforced between members of the group. However, Li notes that if one person in that group adopts healthy habits, it could impact the others.

"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."

Since social media outlets such as Facebook are becoming the primary platform for communication between young people, Li says it will be important to figure out ways to incorporate healthy lifestyle interventions into those tools--giving children and teens instant access to helpful information or resources.

Source: Science Daily

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