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.
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