Social Media vs. Childhood Obesity, Part 3

some kind of acceleration

Childhood Obesity News is looking back over the past few months on the social media front, and it seems useful to think for a moment about what social media really entails. The degree of interactivity would seem to be of paramount importance. There are so-called “interactive” websites where the action consists of nothing more than looking at it.

In some areas, there is interactivity aplenty, but it is all meaningless. When two Hollywood starlets are photographed wearing the same dress, and a publication asks people to vote on which young lady looked better in it, there is an illusion of action, but it is totally futile. Your vote will not change anyone else’s mind about which girl “wore it best,” and your vote can’t force the less attractive one to never wear the dress again, or to never let anyone take her picture again.

On the other hand, say you’re a teenager who feels really, really bad because a chair shattered to pieces when you attempted to sit down. You write an anonymous note about the whole sickening episode and post it anonymously at the Weigh2Rock website, and another teenager replies to say the same thing happened to her, and maybe even more kids join in with tales of chairs that crumpled beneath them… Well, everybody gets something out of that exchange.

Weigh2Rock is, of course, Dr. Pretlow’s website, the one with all the messages where genuine feelings are poured out, and with all the fascinating polls and the great advice. The reason we bring this up is because Weigh2Rock got a mention when the results were discussed of a study done by Dr. J.S. Li and others, for the American Heart Association:

As Dr. Li et al point out, a number of social networks, such as the Weigh2Rock program have been created specifically to address the problem of overweight and obesity.

They ended up recommending that the role of social networks and social media should be evaluated further, because a collaborative approach to weight management has good possibilities:

In other words, the role that social networks and social media can play in weight management needs to be further explored. A conventional weight management program, for example, may make use of social media to provide social support, motivation, and important information to enrollees.

The important information that a kid who breaks chairs can receive is that she or he is not alone, it has happened to others. The social support comes from knowing that others have gotten over it, and not died of shame. The motivation is already present, manifested in our society in a thousand ways and also coming from inside us.

Dr. Goutham Rao wrote about this study, and summarized the three “compelling reasons” why social networks and social media can be a useful tool in combating childhood obesity. One is because the infrastructure is already here, since almost everyone is part of at least one social network, and probably a lot of them, and he’s not just talking about networks aided by technology, but real-life situations of family and community.

For the second reason, he concentrates on the technological angle, saying:

… [T]he explosive growth in social media and the use of technology in general, has already resulted in a generation of technologically-savvy children and adolescents who are quite different from prior generations. Consider that approximately 75% of American adolescents ages 12-17 have mobile phones and 2/3 of mobile phone users ages 15-24 have devices with ‘smartphone’ features such as mobile Internet access.

Having been a hospital administrator, Dr. Rao is very interested in the time-saving potential:

Not only were highly specialized personnel who invested many hours with each child required, but families themselves were forced to invest a large amount of their own time, often sacrificing school and work, to attend appointments, group classes, and other intensive services. One important advantage of the promising strategies that makes use of social networks, social media, and various technologies […] will certainly be their relatively low cost to deliver and administer.

It appears that technology can alleviate the need for staff-intensive interventions consequent to an in-person clinical weight management program. When funding is short, this is important.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Promise of Social Networks and Social Media in Tackling Childhood Obesity,” AmericanHeart.org, 12/03/12
Image by Raymond Zoller.

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