Screen-based media and well-being in adolescence

Author: Cara L. Booker
Institution: University of Essex
Type of case study: Research

About the research

Over recent decades there has been a significant increase in sedentary activities, especially those that are screen-based such as using computers, smartphone and playing electronic games. Together these screen based media (SBM) occupy a considerable portion of young peoples’ life, and it is becoming apparent that the various types of SBM may be independently associated with some health and well-being outcomes. This research was funded by the Economic and Research Council (ESRC) to investigate the relationship between SBM use among UK adolescents and the associations between screen-based media use and well-being. It also analysed what role sports participation plays in this relationship. The study used data from the first wave of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, conducted in 2009.

Findings showed that the majority of young people used multiple types of SBM for at least 1 hour per day and that only 30% participated in sports every day. Overall the research found that increased screen-based media use was associated with decreased well-being, however the magnitude differed by type of screen-based media.

In particular, results showed that young people who chatted on social Web sites for 1 to 3 hours per day were about two thirds as likely to be happy as those who spent less than 1 hour on social Web sites. Only young people who spent 4 or more hours viewing television had significantly lower odds of happiness than other respondents. However, ‘a 19% decrease in the odds of happiness was observed for every unit increase in total SBM use’ (Booker et al., 2013). Findings also showed that young people who chatted on social Web sites or played computer or console games 4 or more hours per day were at least twice as likely to have socio-emotional difficulties as those who spent less than an hour per day in these pursuits. However watching TV for more than 4 hours per day did not show the same association. Sports participation was associated with better well-being and it was found that young people who participated in more sports spent less time using SBM; however the inclusion of sports did not drastically change the association between screen-based media use and the measures of well-being.

Methodology

The research, conducted by Cara Booker and Alexandra Skew, identified important potential health and well-being outcomes related the increasing use of screen based media among young people in the UK. It has potential impact of informing interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour and encourage healthy lifestyles among young people.

The study used data from the first wave of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, conducted in 2009. There were 4,899 youth aged 10-15 who completed the pen and paper questionnaire. The researchers looked at four screen based media use questions covering use of internet: chatting on social websites, console games, computer games and television. They also analysed weekly sports participation and used two measures of well-being: a summarised happiness score, composed of 6 questions about happiness with various domains in life, and the total score from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Both well-being measures were split to identify the top 10% of happiness and those at risk for clinically relevant socio-emotional difficulties. Finally multivariate logistic models were conducted, controlling for child’s age and gender and parental educational qualification and household income.

Publications

This study received considerable policy focus by the Cabinet Office and the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In particular, it contributed to a report on social attitudes of young people by the Horizon Scanning Programme Team in the Cabinet Office’s Analysis & Insight:

‘Social media use is associated with improved wellbeing and social connectedness. However, the relationship with wellbeing is non-linear. Whilst some social media use is positively associated with wellbeing, no social media use is associated with negative outcomes, as is heavy social media use (more than three hours a day) (Booker et al., 2013)’

The research also informed the Officer for National Statistics (ONS) report exploring the well-being of children in the UK, 2014:

‘..using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey, Booker et al. found that moderate amounts of screen time (1 to 3 hours a day) were associated with better well-being than excessive screen time (4 hours or more a day) or none at all. This finding was reaffirmed in the latest Good Childhood report by The Children’s Society.

To read the report in full:

Booker, C.L., Skew, A.J., Sacker, A & Kelly, Y.J. (2015) ‘Screen based media use, sports participation and well-being in adolescence: findings from the UK Household Longitudinal Study’, American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), pp. 173-179. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301783

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