36259 No Personal Trainer? There's an App for That!: Overweight and Non-Overweight Adolescents' Use of Digital Health, Diet and Fitness Information

Heather Zupancic, M.A.1, Alexis Lauricella, Ph.D.1, Ellen Wartella, Ph.D.1, Leanne Beaudoin-Ryan, Ph.D.1 and Vicky Rideout, M.A.2, 1Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 2VJR Consulting, San Francisco, CA

Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis:  Adolescent access to digital information is ubiquitous, as many teens own devices such as tablets, personal computers and smartphones. Having grown up as “digital natives,” adolescents are accustomed to using these devices to search for health-related information. However, little is known about how adolescents search for health information using digital devices. Even less is known about how overweight adolescents may seek out health information and whether their information-seeking practices differ from their non-overweight peers. Since prevalence of adolescent adiposity and obesity in the U.S. is still of great concern, it is crucial to understand how overweight adolescents navigate questions regarding their health. In this study, the researchers hypothesized that overweight and non-overweight adolescents would differ in their health information-seeking practices. The researchers also posed the following research question:Do adolescents perceive apps or online health information to be more effective at helping them achieve their weight-related goals?

Methods:  This study reports the findings of a nationally-representative survey of 1,156 U.S. adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18. Participants were surveyed regarding their digital health information-seeking practices. Self-reported height and weight was used to calculate BMI. Participants who were at a BMI of 25 and above were categorized as overweight and those below 25 as non-overweight. Chi-square tests were used to test relationships between weight categories and health information-seeking practices as well as test relationships between platforms used and self-reported positive health outcomes. 

Results:  The results of this study indicate that there are significant differences in levels of health information-seeking between overweight and non-overweight adolescents. Overweight adolescents are more likely than non-overweight teens to be low or high health information-seekers. Conversely, non-overweight teens were more likely to be medium-level information seekers. Furthermore, overweight adolescents are more likely to download nutrition or calorie-tracker mobile apps than non-overweight adolescents. On the other hand, non-overweight adolescents were more likely than overweight adolescents to look up fitness information. Finally, when comparing mobile applications to online health information, more adolescents were likely to report weight loss, change of fitness levels, and change in diet due to a mobile app as opposed to online health information. 

Conclusions:  This data may indicate that, adolescents who are overweight may be either extremely concerned about their health and thus, seek a great deal of information or, conversely, unconcerned about their overall health and seek less information. Furthermore, adolescents who are overweight tend to rely more on calorie trackers or nutrition apps, which may indicate that this is their primary means of weight loss. Finally, across both weight categories, this data may indicate that apps are better suited for adolescents who wish to meet certain weight, diet and fitness goals. 

Implications for research and/or practice:  Implications of this study may include that practitioners and health communication professionals should approach overweight adolescents differently when trying to reach them with digital health information. This study may indicate that obesity reduction initiatives could best reach overweight adolescents through the use of mobile applications containing a nutritional component.