Young People's Use of Digital Health Technologies in the Global North: A Narrative Review (Preprint)
Journal of Medical Internet Research
A diverse array of digital technologies are available to children and young people living in the Global North to monitor, manage, and promote their health and well-being. This article provides a narrative literature review of the growing number of social research studies published over the past decade that investigate the types of digital technologies used by children and young people in the Global North, in addition to investigating which of these technologies they find most useful or not
... l. Key findings as well as major gaps and directions for future research are identified and discussed. A comprehensive search of relevant publications listed in Google Scholar was conducted, supported by following citation trails of these publications. The findings are listed under type of digital technology used for health: cross-media, internet, social media, apps and wearable devices, sexual health support and information, and mental health support and information. Many young people in the Global North are active users of digital health technologies. However, it is notable that they still rely on older technologies, such as websites and search engines, to find information. Apps and platforms that may not have been specifically developed for young people as digital health resources often better suit their needs. Young people appreciate the ready availability of information online, the opportunities to learn more about their bodies and health states, and the opportunities to learn how to improve their health and physical fitness. They enjoy being able to connect with peers, and they find emotional support and relief from distress by using social media platforms, YouTube, and online forums. Young people can find the vast reams of information available to them difficult to navigate. They often look to trusted adults to help them make sense of the information they find online and to provide alternative sources of information and support. Face-to-face interactions with these trusted providers remain important to young people. Risks and harms that young people report from digital health use include becoming overly obsessed with their bodies' shape and size when using self-tracking technologies and comparing their bodies with the social media influencers they follow. Further details on how young people are using social media platforms and YouTube as health support resources and for peer-to-peer sharing of information, including attention paid to the content of these resources and the role played by young social media influencers and microcelebrities, would contribute important insights to this body of literature. The role played by visual media, such as GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) and memes, and social media platforms that have recently become very popular with young people (eg, Snapchat and TikTok) in health-related content creation and sharing requires more attention by social researchers seeking to better understand young people's use of digital devices and software for health and fitness.