Social Media vs. the Obesity Epidemic, Part 6

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Surveys of the habits of American youth between the ages of 13 and 17 find that half of them use social media on a daily basis. The American Heart Association (AHA), in a statement that was published in the January issue of its journal, Circulation, recommends including social media in programs designed to prevent and manage obesity.

The AHA thinks it would behoove the medical establishment and the makers of health policy to pay more attention. It is obvious that social media can be a powerful tool.

However, the AHA writing group issued a warning about kids’ “limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure,” stating also that they are at risk when surfing the Web. This seems to translate as meaning that kids can become absorbed in games, naughtiness, and other generally unproductive activities.

The danger is not just to average kids who love wasting time. The limitless world of the Internet is equally dangerous for a smart kid who finds some intellectually captivating topic and, as they say, goes down a rabbit hole.

Undoubtedly, the online universe is a powerful force whose effects can be contradictory and far-reaching. Salynn Boyles tells us:

The group concluded that the studies have been mixed, and more research is needed to develop strategies for optimizing the use of Web-based interventions in the fight against childhood obesity.

Boyles, formerly senior editor for Henderson Publications (which publishes medical newsletters), interviewed Dr. Pretlow on behalf of WebMD. One of the subjects was Weigh2Rock, the site he founded to help kids avoid or escape obesity.

The success stories are inspiring and redolent of hope. The anonymity of the forums and chat rooms is attractive to young people who prefer not to advertise their problems to the whole world, except under their own terms. The poll questions are always interesting, and the young, as much as anybody, enjoy being asked for their opinions.

Dr. Pretlow told the interviewer that 99% of the Weigh2Rock visitors never post on the site, they just read what the more active kids say. Apparently, many of their needs are met by even this minimal amount of passive communicative, and there is an enormous invisible benefit accruing to those lurkers who choose not to participate, even anonymously.

Dr. Pretlow is quoted:

Kids who are overweight often feel like they are all alone. When they go on the site and see post after post from kids who have the same experiences and problems they have had, it makes them realize this isn’t true. Even if they never post a word, this can be very powerful.

What most kids who are overweight can’t do in the real world is talk about their weight with anyone. They don’t talk about it at school, or with their friends, or at home because they are too embarrassed. They don’t want to call attention to it. Ever.

Another journalist who mentioned Dr. Pretlow’s project is George Zapo, who writes for Technorati. He reiterates the points made by many others, about the potential for success in controlling childhood obesity by using online and real-life social networks as support systems. Zapo says of Weigh2Rock:

Overweight children tend to avoid attention to their weight; they don’t discuss it with family friends, at school, or at home. However, children who use the social network like Weigh2Rock appear to like their anonymity and are open for discussion in the groups and chat rooms. They also enjoy reading the stories and tips the site provides.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Social Media May Help Fight Childhood Obesity,” WebMD, 12/04/12
Source: “Fighting Childhood Obesity with Social Media,” Technorati, 01/26/13

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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