Can Mobile Phones Play a Role in Improving Health Behaviours in Youth?

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Smart phones and wearable sensors in the present generation are potentially involved in transforming the health status of individuals by reducing morbidity and mortality. A new meta-analysis by scientists in the United States has revealed that mobile health (mHealth) interventions have a significant impact on the improvement of health conditions and disease management in the younger population.

 

Mobile phones are a portable source of telecommunication whose electromagnetic radiation has a significant impact on human health globally.  Enormous usage of mobile phones in health care settings has paved a way for medical practitioners to bring about potential changes in behaviors that are beneficial in improving health conditions. With advancement in technology, mobile health (mHealth) interventions, especially medical software applications, have been the target for providing information related to various health conditions and promotion of certain dynamic health-related activities. Most of the mHealth interventions have focused on adult populations but there is scarcity of information on the effect of mHealth technologies on younger populations. A meta-analysis study was carried by Fedele and his team at the Department of Clinical & Health Psychology at the University of Florida , US, to determine the effect of mHealth interventions on health conditions in s younger population (<=18 years). The crucial findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, 2017.

Various literature studies related to mHealth impact on behavior or disease management from November 30, 2016 was collected from various databases (PubMed, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Educational Resources Information Center, and PsychINFO). Most of the mHealth intervention literature was collected using terms related to telemedicine, eHealth, mobile health, mHealth, app, and mobile application. Researchers considered study data from 36 articles containing 37 unique studies from a total of 9773 unique articles. Appropriate statistical methods were adopted for determining the aggregate effective sizes and moderator variables. The meta-analysis from 29, 822 study participants revealed 53.2% (n=11,226) constituted females with an average age of 11.35 years.  Among the total studies, 40.5% (n=15) did not show any relevant information about the study participants’ age. Interestingly, study reports showed that 43.7% (n=4887) belonged to Hispanic/Latino, 14.4% (n=1616) were African American, and 3.15% (n=341) were white. 38.8% (n=4354) of the study participants revealed no specific information about race/ethnicity. In addition, 37.8% (n=14) of the study population showed increased risk of bias.

The study found that mHealth interventions could significantly improve health-related outcomes in the pediatric population. However, the aggregate effect size of mHealth interventions was significantly smaller when compared with the controls Caregiver involvement in the intervention emerged as a significant moderator on the impact of mHealth (P = .05). Therefore, mobile usage by youth has a significant influence on health, especially in behaviour and disease management.

In summary, the current study provides an insight on the cumulative effect of mobile phone usage on overall health conditions of younger individuals. As well, mHealth interventions used by medical care professionals acts as an agent for maintaining proper health strategies in pediatrics. Further studies related to various mechanisms involving healthy behaviour changes should be considered in pediatric mHealth interventions along with larger samples. In spite of have several potential findings, this study has several limitations in the aspects of literature studies, exclusion conditions followed in mHealth interventions, coding of the moderator variables, range of age groups and knowledge on improvising health strategies by mHealth interventions. In the future, following proper policies in hospitals and governments would enable mHealth interventions in health improvement and disease management at pediatric population level.

 

Written By: Manche Santoshi, PhD