How Well Are Teenagers Using Digital Health Tools?
Digital Health Generation
The recent “Digital Health Generation” report raised concerns about how young people in the UK use apps and other digital technologies to manage their health.
On the plus side, the survey with more than 1000 English 11-18 year olds and their parents showed high awareness of the National Health Service (NHS) as a trusted source of information, alongside other sources seen as `official’ like WebMD and BUPA. However, this report acknowledges the confusing and contradictory digital world young people face when searching for trusted help with their health.
There may be some opportunities. The report revealed that YouTube is the most popular channel for young people to access health information, used for this by 44% of the survey group. Many patient groups have YouTube channels, but there’s a double challenge in being pulled up when a teenager searches, and once there, having engaging content aimed at this age group.
For example, the report recommended to: “…involve young people in the co-design and co-creation of digital tools which address their health.”– Digital Health Generation report
Over-dieting, over-exercising and obsessions
The report confirmed that: “the use of health and fitness apps can contribute to some young people over-exercising or engaging in harmful dietary practices.”
Participants strongly expressed the need for health and fitness apps to set boundaries, warnings and limits:
“An app…needs to tell you when to stop…to stop you going too far.” – Elliot, survey participant, Digital Health Generation
As well as their health risks, the report concluded that: “Young people demonstrated minimal knowledge about data security or privacy.” On the one hand, survey participants said they had endless teaching about data security at school, but on the other hand they could not see any problem in sharing their health data.
Active, but not safe?
The report makes clear that although the young people surveyed quickly tire of specific digital health interventions, overall they are very active in digital health:
- 70% use digital health technologies for health purposes
- 52% use apps to track diet, fitness and/or health
- 42% use digital technologies specifically to learn how to improve their health
- 45% worry about incorrect information.
Digital literacy divide
The report also identified health inequalities resulting from education and access to diverse qualities of parental support for digital health literacy. It highlights that parents, teachers and coaches themselves need to improve their own digital literacy in order to help the next generation:
“Adults need support developing their own digital literacy in order to better support young people in critically evaluating the diverse range of digital platforms, devices, apps and information available to them.” – Digital Health Generation.
The report “Digital Health Generation? Young people’s use of `healthy lifestyle’ technologies” was managed by Bath University with funding the Wellcome Trust.