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American Heart Association Finds Social Media Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

The American Heart Association released a statement suggesting that Social networking sites may be a valuable weapon in the fight against childhood obesity. The full report is scheduled for publication in the journal Circulation in January, 2013.

The AHA believes that physicians and health policy makers must make a greater effort in integrating obesity prevention messages and programs into Social Media.  By using Facebook to promote exercise, weight loss and healthy eating, it may be possible to reach children and adolescents on a consistent basis.  According to Dr. Jennifer S. Li, the chief of pediatric cardiology at Duke University, “Almost all kids have Internet access and many have smartphones.  We need to take advantage of social networking to connect with them because it is the way they are connecting with their friends.”

Dr. Li led an AHA study researching internet promotions of healthy lifestyle choices, and the results have been mainly inconclusive, although the researchers agreed that further investigation is needed.  It is believed that parental involvement combined with the intervention of doctors, counselors and peers resulted in more successful weight loss when united with web-based programs.  Online programs and communities offer kids that are used to the immediacy of texting and social Media messaging instant access to helpful weight loss resources.

However, the AHA statement warned of dangers of a social media anti-obesity campaign, namely that teenaged participants in social media based Weight Loss Programs might be exposed to online bullying and privacy invasion issues.  “Because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, adolescents can be at risk as they navigate social media,” the statement read.  Also, no one wants to encourage kids to sit in front of a computer screen when they could be engaging in physical activities and sports.

Fortunately, if kids are reluctant to engage in weight loss programs via Facebook or Twitter because of possible social backlash, there might be a less conspicuous option.  Dr. Robert Pretlow, a Seattle based pediatrician who created the website Weigh2Rock, believes that the outreach potential of social media is highly valuable, but kids might be embarrassed about discussing obesity with their friends.  His website allows kids to post messages on forums, engage in chats and read success stories anonymously.  Having access to a network of peers that share similar struggles and successes can be a very useful tool in helping kids to engage in healthier and more active lifestyles.  “What most kids who are overweight can’t do in the real world is talk about their weight with anyone,” Dr Pretlow says. “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.”

By Julian Omidi

Boyles, Salynn: Social Media May Help Fight Childhood Obesity WebMD Health News 12/4/2012

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American Heart Association Finds Social Media Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity


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