4 ways smartphone technology can improve health for teens

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that most youth in America today are connected to technology. The Pew Research Center reports that, as of 2018, almost all teens (95%) have access to a smartphone [1]. Not only are smartphones owned by young people across income and racial/ethnic lines, they are changing the way that many teens go online. [1]

Many of us have at least heard of, if not tried, health and fitness apps that help you track the food you’re eating in a daily “food journal,” view specialized workout plans, and offer countless more features and services. Even Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy phones have health apps that help the user track their steps each day.

Here’s are 4 more ways that smartphones are contributing to a healthier generation of youth and teens:

1.    Access to Health Information Youth don’t always have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their health, especially when it comes to sexual health information. We have developed several sexual health interventions that are text-message-based sexual health programs for teens across the country [2]. Youth, Tech, Health (YTH) is another example of a tech-based health organization that provides sexual health information to youth, including those in the foster care system and the juvenile justice system [3]. Programs such as these utilize technology to deliver crucial health information to teens and young adults globally.

2.      Monitoring Chronic Conditions Smartphone technology can make it easier to manage chronic conditions, including Type II diabetes, a condition that affects 1 in every 500 youth [4].  Several cell phone apps have features that allow the user to track their sugar levels and symptoms, set reminders to check their blood sugar, and even import and analyze data from glucometers and insulin pumps [5].

3.      Quitting Smoking The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, unless smoking rates decrease, 1 in 13 youth under the age of 17 will die early from a smoking-related illness [6]. Thankfully, there are several free apps to help people quit smoking: StopMySmoking and SmokefreeTXT are just two examples. These completely opt-in programs are convenient because they are research-based and the messages can be customized to accommodate your schedule [7; 8].

4.      Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients There are several ways in which smartphones can help teens and their parents communicate better with their doctors. For example, apps such as My Medical Info and others, are great for families because it allows users to create medical profiles. For each profile, the user can add medication and dosage instructions, health history, allergies, doctors’ contact information, and set reminders for appointments [9].

Exciting new health apps and text messaging programs are coming out every day. It bears noting that some of these programs are pricey; people who do not have a lot of money – or even have smartphones – will not have access to these programs. So while they are important tools, we need to continue to be sure that there is a multitude of options so that wherever and whenever someone is seeking out ways to better their health, there is a tool available to them.

We also need to be thoughtful consumers. Be sure to read the privacy policy so that you understand what data the app is collecting and who the company might be sharing your personal information with; this is especially important for apps that collect your location data. Just like with anything else you do online or with technology, it is important to be a critical user of technological tools.

With that, go forth and be healthy!

Thank you to Katie Nardo and Emily Goldstein for your contributions to this blog.

References

[1] Anderson M, Jiang J. Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Pew Research Center. 2018. Accessible at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

[2] innovativepublichealth. 2018. Accessible at: innovativepublichealth.org

[3] YTH. 2018. Accessible at: YTH.org

[4] American Diabetes Association. 2017. Accessible at: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/

[5]Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. 2017. Accessible at: https://www.jdrf.org.au/sttp/diabetes-technology

[6] CDC. 2017. Accessible at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm

[7] Ybarra ML, Holtrop JS, Prescott TL, Rahbar MH, Strong D. Pilot RCT results of Stop My Smoking USA: A text messaging-based smoking cessation program for young adults. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2013;15(8):1388-1399.

[8] Smokefree Text Messaging Programs. 2018. Accessible at: https://smokefree.gov/tools-tips/text-programs

[9] MyMedicalInfo. 2018. Accessible at: http://www.mymedicalinfoapp.com/