Final Report – Digital Health Generation Study

Really excited that our research project report is now available for download from here:

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the development of this project and, especially, to the Wellcome Trust for their commitment to its work.



Digital Health and Young People


This project will begin to address major and pressing gaps in digital health knowledge, by providing unique insights into young people’s (aged 13-18) experiences of digital health technologies focused on ‘healthy lifestyles’. It will develop an innovative theoretically-informed and methodologically novel research approach, bringing together perspectives from the fields of critical digital health, pedagogy and ethics and utilising innovative qualitative methods of data collection to examine the impact of digital health technologies on young people’s health, bodies and identities and identify related inequalities and opportunities. During the course of the project we will be mapping the digital health ecology system including the technologies being used by young people (aged 13-18) and their engagement with health data; identify a network of related health professionals/clinicians, policy makers, academics and digital designers; host a national workshop and symposium to bring together key expertise and disseminate findings.

Aims & Questions

1) To identify how commercial digital health technologies focused on ‘healthy lifestyles’ are used by young people (aged 13-18 years) and explore their impact on health practices.

2) To develop contextualized understandings of how young people discover, select, adopt, share, employ, resist or reject the information and assumptions about health and bodies that are offered by digital technologies.

3) To examine how actors and agencies (official and commercial) guide and push young people towards the use of digital health technologies

4) To develop new conceptual, theoretical and empirical insights on the processes of learning about and managing human bodies and health through digital technologies.

5) To explore how social contexts shape digital health technology engagement and identify related inequalities and disparities of its use (e.g. terms of differential access and social inequalities such as age, gender, social class, sexuality, disability and ethnicity).

Areas of Interest

The research will examine in detail, young people’s engagement with technology in terms of:

  • trust/reliability are established, what they like and dislike about these technologies
  • what they are learning about health and the body through these technologies
  • how they engage in health-related social groups and communities via these technologies
  • how they use the data generated by digital health engagement (e.g. in relation to diet or physical activity practices)
  • what they know about how digital software and device developers and third parties may gain
  • access to and use their data
  • the deficiencies or gaps they perceived in the digital health technologies that they have
  • access to and what they would ideally like to see in digital health tech offered to them
  • Whether they feel pressured or pushed into using digital health tech and by whom
  • how they incorporate and negotiate information and support derived from digital media
  • sources with other sources (parents and other family members, teachers/education system,
  • healthcare professionals, friends and so on)

Digital health technologies are revolutionising healthcare, profoundly changing government health policies and the ways that health knowledge is being created, accessed and used around the world. This includes the global wearable and mobile health industry providing the means through which people’s bodies and health practices are are being measured and monitored.    

There have been significant developments in the design of digital health technologies, including the trend towards more mobile and wearable health technologies, many of which provide opportunities for improving health.  As such, there has been a rapid growth in what can be described as technologies that are pertinent to promoting healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as physical activity, body weight management, sleep and food consumption and other bodily aspects such as menstruation, fertility, sexual activity and pregnancy. Mobile and wearable devices offer a range of tools for individual to measure, monitor and regulate their health, and provide new ways of understanding our bodies and health through quantified data.

Many of these technologies are now being promoted by schools, parents, coaches, health professionals and others as tools to encourage young people to adopt healthy lifestyles.  Yet for these opportunities to be realised, existing research and policy development must be informed by studies which better understand the contexts within which digital health is used and address some of the ethical questions about the increased monitoring and surveillance of people’s bodies and health behaviours. There is a pressing need to understand how young people are using these technologies and the impact this has on their health, identities and health behaviours.   

Despite continued investment, we don’t yet know if digital media and devices are the preferred means through which young people access health information. Nor do we know how young people might be contributing to or accessing digital media that potentially contribute to their participation in activities that may cause ill-health or injury, such as eating disorders, self-harm and drug use. Failure to address these issues may leading to significant gaps in access to digital healthcare and to potentially harmful forms of engagemen

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