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Too much screen time makes 'children depressed'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

28th August 2013 -- Too much time in front of the TV and computer game screens, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, is increasing children's anxiety levels, according to a new Public Health England report.

The briefing paper, 'How healthy behaviour supports children's wellbeing', identifies a link between children's screen time and lower levels of wellbeing. It says children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression.

In the UK, 62% of 11-year olds, 71% of 13-year olds and 68% of 15-year olds report watching more than 2 hours of TV a day on weekdays, compared to Switzerland where the figure is less than 35% across all three age groups.

In England, the proportion of young people playing computer games for 2 hours or more a night during the week increased from 42% to 55% among boys and 14% to 20% among girls between 2006 and 2010.

New term, new start

The briefing paper is released as a new Change4Life campaign encourages families to use the back to school period to adopt healthier behaviours. 'Smart Restart' outlines everyday changes for families to focus on for the next 6 weeks to half term:

  • Screen-time switch - encouraging limiting screen time and swapping time in front of the TV, tablet or computer for something active.
  • Stretch your legs - encouraging families to swap car or bus journeys for walking, scooting or cycling.
  • 10-minute moves - incorporating fun 10 minute activities into lives to help build to the goal of at least 60 active minutes a day.
  • Beat the treats - encouraging families to swap unhealthy treats for healthy alternatives.

The briefing reveals that children doing more physical activity are more likely to concentrate better in school, enjoy good relationships with classmates and display lower levels of worry, anxiety and depression.

Get out and about

The briefing paper found that higher levels of TV viewing are having a negative effect on children's self-esteem and on their levels of self-reported happiness.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's Director of Health and Wellbeing says in a press release: "There are many complex factors that affect a child's wellbeing such as the wider environment they live in and their social, financial and family circumstances, but there are also some very simple things we can all do every day with our children to help improve their health and wellbeing."

Lil Caprani, Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns, at The Children's Society agrees. In a statement she says: "When we asked children about their wellbeing as part of our Good Childhood Report, we found a strong association with being active and being happy. Things like cycling, swimming or playing football all had a clear relationship, but simple things like just going for walks were associated with higher wellbeing."

Reviewed on August 28, 2013

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