Social Media Could Help Curb Childhood Obesity, Heart Association Says

The American Heart Association has published a statement suggesting that social media might be an effective tool in the fight against childhood obesity, Forbes reports.

Statement Details

The statement -- which was published in the journal Circulation -- offered an overview of recent research on how social media affects health and obesity (Husten, Forbes, 12/3). It also evaluated research on various Web-based obesity intervention strategies.

According to the statement, variables that contribute to the success of a Web-based obesity intervention strategy include:

  • Family involvement with the intervention;
  • The degree of interaction between the children and their counselor or support group; and
  • The frequency with which children used the online programs.

The statement noted that people tend to spend time with those similar to them, even in online communities. Therefore, AHA stated, obesity intervention strategies that target online networks of overweight or obese children might cause a ripple effect as members of the group start making healthy lifestyle changes (Medical News Today, 12/5).

AHA's Recommendations

According to the statement, social media offers "natural points for intervention" to address obesity among children and teenagers (Forbes, 12/3). The statement recommended that clinicians, policymakers and researchers develop social networking-based obesity interventions that encourage self-monitoring, goal-setting and problem-solving (Medical News Today, 12/5).

However, Jennifer Li -- chair of the AHA writing group that produced the statement -- warned that social media also is associated with cyber bullying, privacy issues and Internet addiction. She said, "Doctors need to understand digital technology better so that they can offer guidance to patients and their families on avoiding such issues" (Forbes, 12/3).

According to AHA, more research is needed to determine whether gender, ethnicity, geographic location or socioeconomic status affect the efficacy of social media-based weight management interventions.

Li said, "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" (Medical News Today, 12/5).


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