Screen Time, Physical Activity & Mental Health of Adolescents

A recently published study in The Lancet: Child & Adolescent Health (2021) examined screen time and physical activity with mental wellbeing in adolescents using data from three rounds of Health Behaviour in School-aged Children cross-sectional surveys (2006, 2010, and 2014) from 42 European and North American countries. 

Results showed that detrimental associations between screen time and mental wellbeing started when screen time exceeded 1-hour per day, whereas increases in physical activity levels were beneficially and monotonically associated with wellbeing. 

Screen time levels were negatively associated with life satisfaction and positively associated with psychosomatic complaints in a dose-dependent manner. 

Physical activity levels were positively associated with life satisfaction and negatively associated with psychosomatic complaints in a dose-dependent manner. 

Joint associations of screen time–physical activity with mental wellbeing showed that, compared with the least active participants with more than 8-hours per day of screen time and no physical activity, most of the other screen time–physical activity groups had considerably higher life satisfaction and lower psychosomatic complaints. 

The author’s concluded that public health strategies to promote adolescents' mental wellbeing should aim to decrease screen time and increase physical activity simultaneously. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/138/5/e20162591/60503/Media-and-Young-Minds?autologincheck=redirected)

has recommended no more that two hours of screen time a day for youth, but this large, multi-national study indicated that screen time exceeding just one-hour per day can have a negative impact on adolescents’ mental health and that the greater the amount of screen time the greater the harm to youths’ mental health. 

At the same time, increasing physical activity, alone and with limiting screen time, improves youth mental health and the greater the amount of physical activity the better the mental health outcomes on youth. 

Substance use and mental health providers should therefore integrate these two related lifestyle behaviors to better enhance adolescent mental as well as physical well-being. 

For example, teaching youth to set and monitor concrete goals to increase their physical activity while reducing their screen time, and vice versa, is a strategy that can be used by Prevention Plus Wellness program providers as well as other prevention and health specialists. 

Read the research abstract: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(21)00200-5/fulltext 

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