A new Australian study finds today's Year 7s at increased risk for later health problems - and too much screen-time is a key factor.
New research published by the Medical Journal of Australia identified device use as one of six behaviours - including smoking, alcohol consumption and poor diet - that will set children on a path to developing chronic health problems as adults.
The study, “Lifestyle risks for chronic disease among Australian adolescents: a cross‐sectional survey,” found the vast majority of today’s 11- to 14-year-olds are clocking up more screen-time than current guidelines recommend, while getting less physical exercise and sleep.
The good(ish) news was that few reported using alcohol or tobacco (around 2%). But a whopping 86% admitted they were exceeding recommended screen-time limits.
Researchers surveyed 6640 Year 7 students to collect data on a range of factors that drive chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease:
They also noted that chronic disease development was happening earlier than ever, sometimes even starting in adolescence.
The good(ish) news was that few reported using alcohol or tobacco (around 2%). But a whopping 86% admitted they were exceeding recommended screen-time limits of 2 non-school-related hours daily.
78% failed to meet the recommended minimum for physical activity (60 minutes a day), while
61% reported insufficient sleep (less than 9-11 hours). Diet was poor - featuring sugary drinks and processed foods - for fully half the children surveyed.
Gender and class
Excessive screen-time, poor diet and smoking were more prevalent for boys. Girls were less likely to get enough physical exercise.
Economic disadvantage didn’t appear to be a factor in the findings. On the contrary, kids from higher socio-economic-status areas were overrepresented. So too were private school students.
Preventative measures needed
The study authors recommended screening by GPs for the six major risk factors - excessive screen-time included - that could facilitate early interventions.
But the role mums and dads could play was also critical, said Associate Professor Leigh Tooth, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Queensland.
“There’s that opportunity to raise awareness with parents,” she noted. “Asking questions like, does your child have a device; what time do they go to bed; are they on the phone at 11 o’clock at night – they can be opportunities for conversations.”
But she also conceded that Australia’s national screen guidelines - which lump kids from age 5 through to 17 into a single category and advise no more than 2 hours of non-schoolwork-related screen-time daily - need to become “more nuanced.”
“If the screen they are watching is showing an educationally enriching product, or a problem-solving game, then the child may not be as harmed in terms of its impact on their quality of life, or psychological status, than, for example, if it was social media.”
“It’s about more than just an absolute number of hours in front of a screen per day.”
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