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Schools should teach children about digital health apps like Fitbit and Strava so they are not at risk, researchers advise

‘Young people need help in navigating a fast-paced, fast-changing online environment,’ lead researcher states

Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 15 July 2020 17:30 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Young people who are using digital health technologies need to be better supported so they are not put at risk, a new report has warned.

A newly published report titled “Digital Health Generation” investigates the way in which young people are using digital platforms to track and manage their health.

According to the researchers, who were led by Professor Emma Rich of the University of Bath, over 70 per cent of young people, some of which are as young as eight years old, are using apps, YouTube videos and other digital platforms to monitor their wellbeing.

The researchers state that while there is opportunity for young people to benefit from these technologies, there are also associated risks if they are not adequately educated on how to use them sensibly.

The team adds digital literacy lessons in schools should be expanded to include more information on health.

They outlined how young people at an early age are using platforms such as Fitbit and Strava, which track activities such as exercise, walking and sleep.

“Over recent years there has been a surge of new online apps, blogs and videos specifically targeting young people with messages about personal improvement in their health and lifestyle,” said Professor Rich.

“These technologies offer certain opportunities for young people, but they also carry risks both in terms of the direct advice and guidance given – and the implications this can have in relation to body image for instance – but also wider concerns about data storage and ownership by third parties.”

Professor Rich said that the researchers’ findings show that young people “want to learn more about this topic, but need help in navigating a fast-paced, fast-changing online environment.”

“Digital health education should promote learning that will benefit young people in ways that help them feel better prepared to manage their online health identities, particularly in relation to social media,” the professor said.

She added that policymakers in education “need to take notice of this specific issue in order to update and expand current provision within the curriculum”.

“This trend in online digital health technologies will only continue to increase and we need to ensure young people have the skills and know-how to best cope,” Professor Rich stated.

Professor Andy Miah, of the University of Salford and co-author of the study, said the investigation is a “world-first” which addresses “a major and pressing gap in health knowledge”.

He explained that the study does this “by providing unique insights into young people’s experiences of digital health technologies promoting ‘healthy lifestyles’”.

“The experiences of the young people we spoke to highlighted complexities in digital health as many of the young people who participated in our research and forums have experiences of digital health which are both positive and problematic,” the professor said.

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