Mobile phone addiction and “fake health news” are the biggest health threats facing teenagers today, according to fitness guru Karl Henry.
The personal trainer and fitness expert said the digital revolution is leading to worrying levels of inactivity by teenagers and young adults who spend hours a day glued to their electronic devices and not engaging in physical activity in the “real world.”
But equally worrying is the often dangerous misinformation about so-called ‘clean’ or healthy eating that is disseminated online that has no basis in reality and can lead to serious health problems later on in life, he told Independent.ie as a guest speaker at HealthFest 2017 at the RDS today.
“In terms of health it’s not a good thing and in terms of fitness it’s certainly not a good thing because all of a sudden it’s the ‘Instagram Expert’ who puts up photographs with advice that has no foundation or qualification behind it,” he said at the event for transition year students.
Teenage girls in particular are most at risk of leading a sedentary lifestyle due to the vast amount of time spent online, he added.
“Put your phones away and enjoy what’s around you,” he said.
“You need to be getting your 60 minutes a day (of exercise) it needs to be spread throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be in one block. And yet people are more sedentary and I think that families have to take stock of that and get fit as a family unit and do things together,” he said.
“Ireland is an amazing place for things you can do. It doesn’t have to be old school things like gaelic or soccer, there’ s so many things you can do that are fun, like paddle-boarding and mountain-biking,” said the trainer on RTE One’s Operation Transformation.
He also warned young people not to be mislead by marketers or so-called social media ‘experts’ espousing ‘gluten-free or dairy-free’ diets when there is no medical or other reason for doing so.
“It’s a very worrying trend and we’re seeing it more and more. It’s the demographic like this who is looking at it and following their advice and yet generally the advice is unfounded, yet we’re seeing it more and more,” he said.
“There are all of these intolerance issues that people are going on (diets) for no reason whatsoever other than they’ve read it’s good or they believe it’s good. But it’s not,” he said.
“I’m not a fan of it, put it that way.”
He made the comments at the one-day event sponsored by the National Dairy Council and SafeFood to encourage teenagers to eat healthy-well balanced meals and be physically active.
But he was preaching to the converted as far as 16-year-old student Maria Luttrell from Portlaoise is concerned.
The Transition Year student at Scoil Chríost Rí said she is too busy playing inter-county gaelic football and basketball to waste time on social media.
“I try to limit it. We have a lot of family time otherwise your head would get, like, mangled,” she said.
“It’s not good for your mental health as well because you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people.
“You’re just sitting there and it’s full attention on your phone and nothing else,” she said.
She was among approximately 3,000 students from across Ireland who attended the free event today.