Screen Time and Health Indicators Among Children and Youth: Current Evidence, Limitations and Future Directions

Abstract

Despite accumulating evidence linking screen-based sedentary behaviours (i.e. screen time) with poorer health outcomes among children and youth <18 years of age, the prevalence of these behaviours continues to increase, with roughly half of children and youth exceeding the public health screen time recommendation of 2 h per day or less. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of key research initiatives aimed at understanding the associations between screen time and health indicators including physical health, quality of life and psychosocial health. Available evidence suggests that screen time is deleteriously associated with numerous health indicators in child and youth populations, including adiposity, aerobic fitness, quality of life, self-esteem, pro-social behaviour, academic achievement, depression and anxiety. However, few longitudinal or intervention studies have been conducted, with most of these studies focusing on physical health indicators. While most studies have used self-reported assessments of screen time, the availability of more objective assessment methods presents important opportunities (e.g. more accurate and precise assessment of sedentary time and screen time) and challenges (e.g. privacy and participant burden). Novel statistical approaches such as isotemporal substitution modelling and compositional analysis, as well as studies using longitudinal and experimental methodologies, are needed to better understand the health impact of excessive screen time, and to develop strategies to minimise or reverse the negative impacts of these behaviours. The evidence to date suggests a clear need for policy aimed at minimising the hazardous health consequences associated with screen time among children and youth.

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Acknowledgements

Jeff Vallance is supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program and a Population Health Investigator Award from Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions. Travis Saunders is supported by a Jeanne and J.-Louis Lévesque Research Professorship.

Author contributions

Jeff Vallance and Travis Saunders equally contributed to conceptualising and drafting the manuscript. Both authors provided critical input and feedback during the manuscript writing process.

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Correspondence to Jeff K. Vallance.

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Both authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Travis Saunders is funded by a Jeanne and J.-Louis Levesque Research Professorship. Jeff Vallance is funded by the Canada Research Chairs Program and Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions.

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Saunders, T.J., Vallance, J.K. Screen Time and Health Indicators Among Children and Youth: Current Evidence, Limitations and Future Directions. Appl Health Econ Health Policy 15, 323–331 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40258-016-0289-3

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Keywords

  • Sedentary Behaviour
  • Sedentary Time
  • Screen Time
  • Television Viewing
  • Food Advertisement