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Fitness apps: a cause for concern?

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Fitness apps and trackers can be a great way to encourage exercise, but teachers have reported that some pupils are competing with friends and fellow pupils when using them. While competition can be healthy for many, others may take it too far. So how do you recognise if your child is one of them? Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers advice to parents

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 instead, relentlessly uses a fitness or diet app every day, this can 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? This is especially concerning if, in speaking to them about it, they talk about these behaviours as if they have no choice.

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.


Further reading

If you are worried your child might have an eating disorder, check out the Beat webiste.

Talking to your child about an eating disorder

When a negative body image becomes a mental health condition



The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

First published: December 2016
Updated: ​May 2018


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