Research says limiting screen time can help your health

Children and teenagers can cut the likelihood of health complaints such as headaches and backache if they limit screen time and get sufficient exercise, according to new research.

Study also recommends exercise to help youths combat aches.

The study indicated young people are less likely to complain about psychological health complaints such as feeling low and difficulties getting to sleep if they adhere to recommended screen time use and physical exercise targets.

Entitled Physical activity, screen time, and the risk of subjective health complaints in school-aged children, the study was written by academics at the Health Promotion Research Centre and the Children’s Studies centre at NUI Galway, led by Dr Eimear Keane.

Screen time applies to TV, videos, DVDs, and other entertainment on a screen, playing games on a computer, games console, tablet, smartphone, and other electronic devices, or using devices such as computers, tablets, or smartphone for other purposes, including homework, emails, and tweeting.

The study uses data compiled for the 2014 HBSC: Health behaviour in school-aged children study which collected questionnaire data from 10,474 people, aged 10-17, and explored if meeting physical activity and total screen time (TST) recommendations are associated with the risk of reporting health complaints weekly or more.

The World Health Organisation recommends children engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, while total screen time has been recommended at less than two hours a day.

The figures from the HBSC study showed that overall, just 5.1% of girls and 8.7% of boys met both physical activity and TST recommendations, while two-thirds of girls and over half of boys met neither recommendation.

Regarding physical exercise and TST recommendations, the report states: “We hypothesised that children who meet neither recommendation would have an increased risk of health complaints compared to those who met both recommendations.”

In the HBSC study, children were asked about “subjective health complaints” — to report how often they experienced eight health complaints: Headache, stomach-ache, backache, feeling dizzy, feeling low, irritability or bad temper, feeling nervous, and difficulties in getting to sleep.

The first four health complaints related to the body and the latter four were psychological health complaints. Respondents could then report how often they experienced these difficulties, from “about every day”, to “more than once a week”, “about every week”, “about every month”, or “rarely or never”.

Other factors such as gender and family structure were also included.

According to the report: “The key findings from the study include that health complaints were prevalent and that a large proportion of children did not meet physical activity or TST recommendations.”

It states that, “as hypothesised, children who did not meet either recommendation had an increased risk of health complaints compared to those who met both recommendations”.

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