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Impact on adolescent mental health of replacing screen-use with exercise: A prospective cohort study

journal contribution
posted on 2022-01-01, 00:00 authored by A Kandola, B del Pozo Cruz, J F Hayes, N Owen, David DunstanDavid Dunstan, M Hallgren
Background: Screen-based device use could increase the risk of adolescent depression. Distinct modalities of screen-use may have differential effects on mental health. We used compositional data analysis to examine how theoretically replacing different screen-uses with exercise might influence future adolescent emotional distress. Methods: In 4,599 adolescents (55% female) from a nationally-representative, prospective cohort, we used time-use diary data at age 14 to estimate daily screen use (television, social media, video game, general computer use) and exercise (team sport and individual exercise). The outcome was emotional distress at age 17, assessed using the emotional symptoms subscale of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Results: Theoretically replacing 60 min of total screen time with exercise at age 14 was associated with a 0.05 (95%CI -0.08, -0.02) score reduction on the emotional symptoms’ subscale at 17 in fully-adjusted models. Replacing 60 min of television or social media use with team sports was associated with a reduction of 0.17 (95%CI, -0.31, -0.04) and 0.15 (95%CI, -0.29, -0.01) in emotional symptom scores, respectively. We found no change in emotional symptom scores when replacing video game or general computer use with team sport, or when replacing any screen time with individual exercise. Limitations: No direct measure of depressive symptoms at follow-up. Conclusions: Replacing any screen time with exercise could reduce emotional distress, but the largest effect sizes were associated with replacing time in television watching and social media with team sports. Recommendations to limit screen-use in adolescents may require a nuanced approach for protecting mental health.



Journal of Affective Disorders




240 - 247




Amsterdam, The Netherlands





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal