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Primary school-aged children saw biggest rise in pandemic screen time use

Children aged between six and 10 had the biggest daily increase in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic, new research suggests (PA)
Children aged between six and 10 had the biggest daily increase in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic, new research suggests (PA)

Children aged between six and 10 had the biggest daily increase in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic, new research suggests.

But increases were seen in all ages, including among adults, the study found.

According to Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) scientists, more time spent looking at screens like the TV or computer was associated with a negative impact on diet, sleep, mental health and eye health.

Primary school-aged children recorded the largest increases, of 83 minutes per day.

Next it was adults, whose screen time increased by 58 minutes, and adolescents (aged 11 to 17), whose screen time rose by 55 minutes.

The study found that children under five had the lowest increase in screen time, going up by 35 minutes.

Senior author Professor Shahina Pardhan, director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute (VERI) at ARU, said: “This study is the first of its kind to look systematically at peer-reviewed research papers on increases in screen time 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.”

Researchers analysed 89 different studies focusing on increases in screen time before and during the pandemic, in detail, giving a total sample size of more than 200,000 people.

The study also looked at the types of screen time, and found that 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.

Increases in screen time were found to be associated with poorer diet in children, poor eye health, deteriorating mental health, including anxiety, and behavioural problems such as aggression, irritability and the increased frequency of temper tantrums.

The research further identified links between more screen time and negative outcomes for adults.

This included adverse effects on diet, eye health, mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and general health, including fatigue, decreased physical activity and weight gain.

The study is published in eClinicalMedicine, which is part of The Lancet Discovery Science journal.