Are fitness apps a cause for concern?

Fitness apps

Advice on how to spot if your child is taking their fitness app too far from Dr Pooky Knightsmith.

The rise of fitness and healthy eating apps on mobile phones has been welcomed as one way of tackling the growing problem of obesity among children and young people. However, a number of teachers have expressed concern that some students are taking their use of these apps too far and have noticed evidence of ‘competitive exercising’ or dieting, in school. This sees pupils becoming obsessed with their scores on these apps and competing with friends and fellow pupils.

While competition can be a healthy thing for many, Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers advice to parents on how to recognise if your child is taking them too far:

1. They never skip a day

Most people who engage in diets or exercise are able to have a day off every now and then – perhaps to celebrate a special occasion or just for the sake of a well-earned break. If your son or daughter doesn’t do this, and uses a fitness or diet app every day, this could be a cause for concern.

2. They miss out on previously enjoyed activities

Is your son or daughter regularly skipping pastimes they previously gained pleasure from in order to make time for fitness or diet? If they talk about these behaviours as if they have no choice, this could be a sign.

3. The app is used as a form of punishment

People with eating or exercise disorders will often use food or exercise as a form of self-harm. If you feel that your son or daughter is routinely using diet or exercise as a form of punishment rather than a source of enjoyment, then you are right to be concerned.

4. Performance is seen as a disproportionate reflection of self

Many apps will enable people to measure their performance against various weight, exercise or diet goals. If your son or daughter’s sense of self-worth seems to be overly driven by their performance against these targets, there could be a problem.

5. They become overly driven by competition

One of the redeeming features of fitness apps is that we can work together with real or virtual friends to achieve our fitness goals. However, if your child appears obsessed with the competitive element of these apps, this can be an indicator that things have gone a step too far. 

What should you do?

  • If you’re concerned about your child’s use of fitness apps, encourage them to open up to you or another trusted adult
  • Do not ban the app as this may drive them to hide their behaviour. Instead, work with them towards a healthier approach, or jointly seek the support of your GP
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