Aussie Teens Are Indulging In Too Much Screen Time: What’s To Be Done?

A joint report by Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation has shed new light on the long-term health impacts of electronic devices on screen-addicted Australian teenagers. Apparently, being glued to your smartphone/laptop/console all day can have a negative effect on developing minds and waistlines. Who would’ve thunk it?

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The latest National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity Survey has revealed what most parents already know: Australian teenagers are spending too much time in front of electronic devices, with a whopping 77 per cent of teens exceeding the recommended two hours of screen time per day. On weekends, the figure blows out to 89 per cent — so online homework/research clearly isn’t to blame.

In addition to potentially causing poor sleeping patterns, headaches and eyestrain, too much electronic gadgetry has also been linked to an increase in teen obesity. According to the Australian Heart Foundation, this threatens to undermine the marginal improvements in exercise levels cited in the report.

“Overweight and obesity among young people is a significant public health issue in Australia, with overweight adolescents being at increased risk of becoming overweight adults and experiencing chronic diseases such as heart disease,” Heart Foundation Australia CEO Mary Barry said in a statement.

The report found that nearly one in four Australian teenage students are either overweight or obese. 85 per cent of students do not engage in sufficient activity to provide a health benefit. Evidently, tweeting while exercising is a task few have mastered.

The increased use of electronic devices is expected to be a significant barrier in the fight against obesity and inactivity among teenagers. The report concludes that parents, schools and policy makers need to work together to help ensure the use of electronic devices doesn’t harm the long-term health of young people.

The above findings were reflected in a recent scientific study by the University of Western Australia. Its researchers found that 80 per cent of 14-to-15 year olds exceeded the recommended guidelines suggested by pediatrics associations. It seems whichever way you cut it, teens are spending way too much time with their gadgets. Or are they?

What the new study fails to take into account is the drastic change in the way teens live their lives since screen-time recommendations were first formulated. I mean, two hours? Really? Back when the only screens were TVs and desktop computers, this may have seemed quite reasonable. These days, virtually every aspect of a western teenager’s social life is connected to their smartphone and laptop. Restricting access is like chopping off a limb.

Personally, we think policy makers and gadget manufacturers should be thinking up innovative ways to make these devices less sedentary. Imagine if Facebook tied user access to the phone’s pedometer, for example? Users could opt into a system where they had to walk a specific number of steps each time they wanted to use the app. This will never happen, of course. But it’s certainly no crazier than trying to curb teenagers gadget use to two hours per day.

National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity Survey [Cancer Council Australia]

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