Young people need more support to navigate the growing number of digital technologies which track and manage their health, researchers say.
Over 70% of young people, some as young as eight, are using apps, YouTube videos and other digital online technologies to track and manage their health, according to the authors of a new report.
The researchers say their findings highlight risks and opportunities for young people and suggest that more needs to be done to expand digital literacy lessons at school to focus on health.
Their report, Digital Health Generation, describes young people in the UK and across the world as growing up at a time when healthcare is turning towards digital tools.
This trend in online digital health technologies will only continue to increase and we need to ensure young people have the skills and know-how to best cope.Prof Emma Rich
They said young people are accessing digital health technologies, such as Fitbit and Strava, from a young age and called for schools to educate young people about this technology.
Lead researcher Professor Emma Rich, from the University of Bath, said: “Over recent years there has been a surge of new online apps, blogs and videos specifically targeting young people with messages all about personal improvement in their health and lifestyle.
“These technologies offer certain opportunities for young people, but they also carry risks both in terms of the direct advice and guidance given – and the implications this can have in relation to body image for instance – but also wider concerns about data storage and ownership by third parties.
“Our findings suggest young people want to learn more about this topic, but need help in navigating a fast-paced, fast-changing online environment.
“Digital health education should promote learning that will benefit young people in ways that help them feel better prepared to manage their online health identities, particularly in relation to social media.
“Educational policymakers need to take notice of this specific issue in order to update and expand current provision within the curriculum.
“This trend in online digital health technologies will only continue to increase and we need to ensure young people have the skills and know-how to best cope.”
Co-author Professor Andy Miah, of the University of Salford, added: “The research is a world-first, addressing a major and pressing gap in health knowledge by providing unique insights into young people’s experiences of digital health technologies promoting ‘healthy lifestyles’.
“The experiences of the young people we spoke to highlighted complexities in digital health as many of the young people who participated in our research and forums have experiences of digital health which are both positive and problematic.”