It’s no secret that screen time has increased exponentially over the last decade. The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that children spend 7 hours a day with electronic media. Not only do they spend a lot of time with screens, but the number of screens they look at or activities they do simultaneously is increasing. The Kaiser Family Foundation found half of students ages 8 to 18 use some form of media (watching TV, scrolling online, etc.) while doing their homework. With the continuously increasing time spent on digital devices, the concern also grows for what impact it may have on health.
Physical Impact of Screen Time
Research has linked excessive screen time with physical health problems like obesity, disrupted sleep schedules, and nearsightedness. One study found that TV viewing and computer usage was correlated with childhood obesity, despite taking home life and other factors into consideration. Screen time was also associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, regardless of physical activity. Reducing screen time during adolescence and into adulthood may be a promising strategy for reducing obesity incidence.
Sleep is necessary for development and physical and mental health, making it a priority for both adults and children. Digital devices and sleep problems have been a popular conversation lately, but studies have confirmed the common concern: devices before bed disrupt sleep patterns. One study found that reading on a tablet pushed back falling asleep for 2 hours on average. For children, evidence suggests that bedtime screens may contribute to less sleep that is poor quality.
Eye health and digital devices is another popular topic. While there are not many studies looking into the direct effects of screen time on the eyes, people are noticing the impact. Common complaints that arise after long stints staring at screens include:
- Eye strain
- Tired eyes
- Trouble focusing
One eye doctor in Winnipeg, Minnesota, has even attributed an increase in nearsightedness (myopia) in children to increased screen time. Dr. Kaeleigh Carrick said over half of her patients under 18 need a prescription due to myopia. This growing problem she describes as an “epidemic” and says the only proven way to combat it is by being in an environment of natural light.
“We are definitely seeing an epidemic. Especially in kids and at a younger rate than we would normally see. The only thing that’s been shown, actually, scientifically, to slow down progression or a trend toward nearsightedness is being outdoors in an environment of natural light.”
Another group of researchers studied 4,500 children between the ages of 8 and 11 and compared their sleep schedules, exercise, and screen time to existing national guidelines for children’s health. The results were:
- Only 5% of them were meeting all the recommended daily guidelines
- 9-11 hours of sleep
- At least 1 hour of physical activity
- No more than 2 hours of screen time
- 51% got the recommended amount of sleep each night
- 37% had the recommended amount of screen time
- 18% met the physical activity requirement
Many times, patients, especially children, don’t consider the impact their daily choices might have on their overall health. Digital devices aren’t going anywhere, and the effects that screen time has on the body aren’t either. It’s important that eye care professionals like you take initiative to inform patients of all ages of the physical side effects of excessive screen time and that moderation is key in reducing these symptoms.
- Jong, E de, et al. “Association between TV Viewing, Computer Use and Overweight, Determinants and Competing Activities of Screen Time in 4- to 13-Year-Old Children.” Nature International Journal of Science, International Journal of Obesity, 13 Dec. 2011, nature.com/articles/ijo2011244.
- Amy E. Mark, Ian Janssen; Relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome in adolescents, Journal of Public Health, Volume 30, Issue 2, 1 June 2008, Pages 153–160, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdn022
- Boone, Janne E., et al. “Screen Time and Physical Activity during Adolescence: Longitudinal Effects on Obesity in Young Adulthood.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, BioMed Central Ltd, 8 June 2007, ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-4-26.
- Doheny, Kathleen. “Too Much Screen Time Can Threaten Attention Span.” MedicineNet, HealthDay, 2010, medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=117789.
- Margalit, Liraz. “What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kids’ Brains.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers LLC, 17 Apr. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/behind-online-behavior/201604/what-screen-time-can-really-do-kids-brains.
- Donnelly, Laura. “More than Two Hours Screentime a Day Could Damage Children’s Brain Development .” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group Ltd., 26 Sept. 2018, telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/26/two-hours-screentime-day-could-damage-childrens-brain-development/.
- Mehtani, Nicky. “Too Much Screen Time, Too Little Sleep and Exercise Linked to Worse Cognitive Development in Children: Study.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 27 Sept. 2018, abcnews.go.com/Health/screen-time-sleep-exercise-linked-worse-cognitive-development/story?id=58132839.