Technology can trim childhood obesity

Johns Hopkins University students using smartphones, websites to engage young audiences, in quest to combat obesity.

Overweight brother and sister sitting on a sofa (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Overweight brother and sister sitting on a sofa
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
To combat the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity, two Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing students, Janna Stephens, RN, BSN, and Michelle Brei, APRN, CPNP, are using smartphones and websites to engage and invite young audiences.
Stephens, a PhD student, is reaching out through a smartphone app that provides tips for healthy food and physical activity. The app also allows users to interact through Facebook and Twitter as well, helping them view losing weight as a more fun and positive experience.
“To engage this population in studies about weight loss, the intervention needs to be something that will stimulate them and [be] something they want to do,” Stephens said. “Adolescents spend hours on their smartphones and use applications to do just about everything. So why not weight loss? The use of smartphone applications to aid in weight loss gives adolescents the power to monitor their intake instantly and to gain real-time feedback related to eating and exercise behaviors.”
She’ll recruit overweight and obese adolescents from Baltimore City and place them into groups at random. Some of the adolescents will use the app to help with weight loss and some will not.
Brei, a doctor of nursing practice student, is developing an interactive website for adolescents at Yale Health in order to reduce pediatric obesity. Her motivation for creating this platform stems from what she witnesses regularly.
“As a pediatric nurse practitioner in primary care, I see children struggle with maintaining a healthy weight on a daily basis. Childhood obesity has become an epidemic,” Brei said. “I felt strongly that greater prevention efforts were needed to keep children healthy.”
The site, which will launch in the fall, will be child-friendly and include games about nutrition along with entertaining videos. Part of the website’s interaction will offer healthy recipes, educational materials, links to vetted websites with resources, and printable tracking charts for following healthy lifestyle goals. Much of the site design has been guided by feedback from focus groups of parents and children.
“The long-term goal,” Brei said, “is to have an effective web-based family resource for pediatric obesity prevention that reinforces and expands upon the counseling clinicians provide during office visits.”
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