Social media has potential as a weight-management tool for youth

Social media and other electronic technologies show potential as tools that can aid in weight management efforts and curb obesity in children, according to an article published this week by officials from the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation. Social networks in particular, say the authors, enable young people in similar situations to connect with each other in "safe and appealing places for peer groups" where good behaviors can be mimicked.

"Many adolescents are part of virtual social networks defined by Internet use," the authors write. "Social network sites like Facebook represent natural points for intervention."

Aside from already established social networks, the authors discuss the creation of new networks that specifically target obesity. While they say little is known about how effective such networks can be, they also point out that those networks--like Weigh2Rock--are easily accessible.

The authors also discuss the potential for video game technologies like Nintendo's Wii Fit and Microsoft Kinect in helping to curb obesity. They point out that in a recent study, such tools are effective for individuals with a low image of their body (although, conversely, they also have a negative impact on individuals with high body image).

"The use of social media with interactive bidirectional interventions, coupled with parental involvement, appears to hold promise," the authors say. "Initiating and sustaining behavior change in accordance with the values and goals of the members of that social network needs to be the goal toward empowering members of the community to use the strength of their social ties to choose pathways toward health promotion."

Weight management isn't the only area researchers believe social media can have an impact. For instance, a team at Kansas State University currently is looking into whether social media can be an effective way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. What's more, according to researchers published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, patients who blog about chronic pain or illnesses can help decrease their feelings of isolation while simultaneously increasing their sense of usefulness.

To learn more:
- here's the Circulation article