Impact of health apps on teens

Parents should read the fine print on privacy policies when helping their tween choose a health app, and use settings that restrict data sharing, Clark suggested.

By Author  |  Published: 24th May 2020  10:41 pmUpdated: 24th May 2020  10:55 pm

Washington D.C: Health apps have become a popular tool among teens and adults to track fitness, weight loss, sleep, and even menstrual cycles. But most parents say they have concerns about how health apps may impact children ages 8-12, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine. But despite concerns, most parents aren’t against tweens using apps.

Two-thirds of parents of tweens worry about advertisements with inappropriate content targeting kids and three-fourths agree that having children track what they eat may lead them to become too concerned about their weight or body image. The nationally representative report is based on responses from 832 parents who had at least one child aged 8-12.

“Health apps are widely used among both adults and teens, but we don’t have much information on tween use,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H. “There are many considerations for allowing younger children to use these apps, including privacy concerns, exposure to advertisements, and the potential for children to become overly focused on food and weight,” Clark noted.

“We found that parents had mixed opinions on health app use among tweens and recognized both the potential harms and benefits to their child’s health,” Clark added. Health apps include games that teach about health and devices that track health data, such as calories consumed or burned, exercise intensity, sleep, and other health habits. Many apps allow users to set goals and give feedback on progress, as well as motivational messages or tips to improve health behaviours. Nearly half of parents have used a health app themselves, but just 1 in 20 say their tween is using health apps, according to the report.

Despite laws designed to protect children’s privacy online, research has also shown that many apps contain advertising, collect and share personal information without verifying the age of the user or gaining parent consent. Parents should read the fine print on privacy policies when helping their tween choose a health app, and use settings that restrict data sharing, Clark suggested.