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Primary-age children see biggest rise in screen time

Published: 23 June 2022 at 23:00

A child reading a tablet computer

New study found increases in all ages but particularly among children aged six to 10

A new study has found that children aged between six and 10 had the biggest daily increase in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic – but increases were seen in all ages, including among adults.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) analysed 89 different studies focusing on increases in screen time before and during the pandemic, in detail, giving a total sample size of over 200,000 people.

The study has been published in eClinicalMedicine, which is part of The Lancet Discovery Science and is a gold open access clinical journal.  

The review found that all age groups increased their total screen time and that increases were associated with adverse effects on diet, sleep, mental health and eye health.

Primary aged children (6–10 years) recorded the largest increases, of 1 hour and 23 minutes per day. This was followed by adults over 18, whose screen time increased by 58 minutes, and adolescents (11–17 years old), whose screen time increased by 55 mins. The screen time of young children under five increased least, going up by 35 mins.

Leisure screen time, or screen time not related to work or study, also increased in all age groups. Children between the ages of six and 10 once again showed the biggest increase. Among children, increases in screen time were found to be associated with inferior diet, poor eye health, deteriorating mental health (including anxiety) and behavioural problems such as aggression, irritability and the increased frequency of temper tantrums. 

The study also identified multiple correlations between increases in screen time and negative outcomes for adults, including adverse effects on diet, eye health, mental health (including anxiety, depression, and loneliness) and general health, including fatigue, decreased physical activity and weight gain.  

Senior author Professor Shahina Pardhan, Director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute (VERI) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“This study is the first of its kind to look systematically at peer reviewed research papers on increases in screen during the pandemic and its impact. By bringing together numerous studies, we get a much more accurate picture of screen time among the population and its associated health repercussions.

“As with any study of this type there are degrees of variability between the research looked at. However, the overall picture provides clear evidence that screen time should be reduced wherever possible to minimise potential negative outcomes. These include adverse dietary behaviours, sleep, mental health, and eye health effects. 

“It is also important that non-sedentary activities are promoted to mitigate the risks of increased screen time.”