Computer and web-based interventions can improve eating behaviour and/or diet related physical outcomes in children and adolescents

The ‘silver surfers’ in the woodland have been keener than ever to get online this week since our post on eHealth Literacy in the older generation.  I thought it was time now that we turned our attention to the younger generation and how they might benefit from telehealth intervention.

There has been a steady rise in the number of obese children in the developed and developing world.  We know too that obesity can cause adverse health effects both emotionally and physically and is recognised as a serious public health concern.  The problem is widespread and is bought on by a range of factors that can act in combination such as diet, lack of physical activity, genetics, home environment, psychological factors, illness and developmental factors.

A recent study was conducted to look at the capacity of computer and web-based programs to promote healthy eating in children and adolescents.  It is potentially such a useful tool as the programs can be appealing to youngsters, cost-effective and capable of reaching large groups of children and adolescents.  Many children/adolescents use computers pretty much everyday of their lives and often prefer information to be delivered in this manner.

This systematic review attempted to examine the effect of computer- or web-based interventions on improving eating behaviour and/or diet related physical outcomes, such as body mass index (BMI), weight, per cent body fat or waist circumference among children and adolescents. After a search of relevant databases they found fifteen suitable studies that were either randomised controlled trials (RCTs), of quasi-experimental design or had a control or comparison group and provided quantitative results. Here’s what they found:

  • Six of the ten web-based and all five of the computer-based interventions resulted in significant improvements in eating behaviour and/or diet–related physical outcomes
  • The classroom setting, which is supervised and has the added benefit of social support from fellow classmates, may enhance the effect of a school-based treatment over a home-based one
  • More research is needed to understand fully the benefits of using a behavioural theory or model as a framework for the therapies
  • Of the six interventions incorporating individually tailored or personalised feedback, four demonstrated significant improvements in eating behaviour
  • Only three of the studies employed follow-up measures, ranging from 3 to 18 months and none of these demonstrated that any diet-related changes were maintained over time


  • A narrative analysis had to be carried out rather than a statistical one, as the included studies did not have identical designs, samples, settings or hypotheses with similar variables
  • The type and duration of personally tailoring the interventions varies among the studies so further investigation is required to fully understand the potential influence of this
  • All fifteen studies employed a type of self-report or recall measure of eating behaviour, it was noted that physical measures should be used in future studies to obtain a more objective assessment

The authors concluded:

 “These findings indicate that computer- and web-based interventions can be successful, but maintenance strategies must be implemented to sustain the positive behaviour change”.

“These types of interventions can be used to supplement education or counselling provided by nurses, and other clinicians to strengthen efforts to promote health eating”.

What a promising way of promoting healthier habits in our technologically able children.  Maybe I ought to let the little elves have an extra half hour a day on the laptop with the condition that they come off Game Hobbit and learn something useful.  Perhaps even a little presentation on the main food groups to end the day…mmm, that might be pushing my luck!


Computer- and web-based interventions to promote healthy eating among children and adolescents: a systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2012 Jul 4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06086.x. [PubMed]