Objectives To systematically examine the evidence of harms and benefits relating to time spent on screens for children and young people’s (CYP) health and well-being, to inform policy.
Methods Systematic review of reviews undertaken to answer the question ‘What is the evidence for health and well-being effects of screentime in children and adolescents (CYP)?’ Electronic databases were searched for systematic reviews in February 2018. Eligible reviews reported associations between time on screens (screentime; any type) and any health/well-being outcome in CYP. Quality of reviews was assessed and strength of evidence across reviews evaluated.
Results 13 reviews were identified (1 high quality, 9 medium and 3 low quality). 6 addressed body composition; 3 diet/energy intake; 7 mental health; 4 cardiovascular risk; 4 for fitness; 3 for sleep; 1 pain; 1 asthma. We found moderately strong evidence for associations between screentime and greater obesity/adiposity and higher depressive symptoms; moderate evidence for an association between screentime and higher energy intake, less healthy diet quality and poorer quality of life. There was weak evidence for associations of screentime with behaviour problems, anxiety, hyperactivity and inattention, poorer self-esteem, poorer well-being and poorer psychosocial health, metabolic syndrome, poorer cardiorespiratory fitness, poorer cognitive development and lower educational attainments and poor sleep outcomes. There was no or insufficient evidence for an association of screentime with eating disorders or suicidal ideation, individual cardiovascular risk factors, asthma prevalence or pain. Evidence for threshold effects was weak. We found weak evidence that small amounts of daily screen use is not harmful and may have some benefits.
Conclusions There is evidence that higher levels of screentime is associated with a variety of health harms for CYP, with evidence strongest for adiposity, unhealthy diet, depressive symptoms and quality of life. Evidence to guide policy on safe CYP screentime exposure is limited.
PROSPERO registration number CRD42018089483.
- chil health
- mental health
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Patient consent for publication Not required.
Contributors RMV conceptualised the study, planned the methods, assisted with the extraction of data and analysis of findings led writing the paper. NS undertook the initial search and led the extraction of data and contributed to analysis of findings and writing the paper.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement All data in this paper were obtained from published studies. No additional data are available from the authors.