The role of e-health interventions in treating adolescent overweight and obesity



TYPE Prevention Centre News

Adolescent overweight and obesity is a major public health issue in Australia with one in four young people above a healthy weight. The health condition is associated with a range of serious health issues and has significant economic consequences, both directly through increased healthcare costs and indirectly through excess school absenteeism, poorer academic performance and reduced future economic prosperity.

Additionally, excess weight during adolescence tends to persist into adulthood, increasing the magnitude of obesity-related morbidities and premature mortality in later life, the costs of which were estimated to be AU$8.6 billion in 2015.

As part of a Prevention Centre sponsored PhD project, Joe Carrello modelled the cost-effectiveness of a hypothetical e-health intervention for the treatment of overweight and obesity in a cohort of Australian adolescents aged between 14 and 15 years. Joe found that, compared to a do-nothing approach, the intervention was both more effective and cost saving, with a 96% probability of being cost-effective.

This research shows that e-health interventions for adolescent overweight and obesity have very good potential as cost-effective strategies to address this major public health issue.

Joe Carello, PhD candidate

E-health uses information and communication technologies to improve healthcare delivery and health outcomes. Although it has been promoted as a cost-effective strategy to treat adolescent overweight and obesity, until this study evidence supporting this claim was lacking.

Most obesity interventions for adolescents (10-19 years) focus on individual behaviour change to increase physical activity levels and improve dietary habits, usually delivered in a face-to-face format. However, the accessibility of these services in Australia have been described as inadequate, particularly for young people with severe obesity and those from rural and remote communities.

E-health offers a potential solution for overcoming these barriers. They are low-cost, accessible, individualised and destigmatise treatment

Joe Carello, PhD candidate

The use of e-health has increased rapidly in recent years following the onset of COVID-19 and has been used to help manage other chronic health conditions in young people, including asthma and diabetes.

Engagement and adherence are critical to the success of e-health interventions for weight loss; however, compliance may be particular difficult with young people. Further, although smartphone use is high in Australia, a digital divide can occur with young people of low socioeconomic backgrounds, including those from rural and remote communities, who are at greater risk of developing overweight and obesity. As such, further research on the effectiveness of e-health interventions in these populations is warranted.

E-health offers very good potential as a cost-effective strategy to address this serious public health issue and should be considered by decision makers to support and expand current weight management services for this demographic in Australia.