14 Sep 2017
Nine-in-ten children in the UK now own a mobile phone , and increasing evidence is supporting the use of health-applications (apps) as a tool to improve health outcomes [2-5]. There is currently an unmet need to develop different models of healthcare delivery for a new digitally active generation; one that embeds a pro-active approach to looking after your own health from an early age. Given the recent engagement in exercise-promoting gamified technologies including Pokémon GO , digital solutions may offer a different and more accessible route into tackling areas of concern within children’s health, including diet and exercise, sexual and mental health .
Recent findings from the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), a trade body representative of global mobile operators, suggest that of the nine-in-ten children who own a mobile phone , approximately 80% (of those aged 8-18) will be the owner of a brand-new handset . Given the wide scale availability, low cost, and market-growth experienced by health-applications (apps), the question arises as to whether this infant therapeutic medium could be put to good effect, among those in whom digital engagement is already at its peak.
With over 300,000 health-apps available globally , the possibilities presented by high levels of digital engagement among children, including harnessing apps to improve health outcomes, are considerable. What is unclear however, is whether this infant and largely untested and un-validated technology, can be used in a manner which is not only effective and engaging, but also safe for use by children. Much like information found on the internet, the quality of health apps is largely unclear, with a number having the potential to result in more harm than good. As such, it is vital that before children embrace this technology, there is first and foremost, a means of safeguarding potential users and highlighting the potential risks and benefits of health-apps, such that informed decisions can be made.