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Is screen time associated with anxiety or depression in young people? Results from a UK birth cohort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number82
Pages (from-to)82
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
DateAccepted/In press - 2 Nov 2018
DatePublished (current) - 17 Jan 2019


BACKGROUND: There is limited and conflicting evidence for associations between use of screen-based technology and anxiety and depression in young people. We examined associations between screen time measured at 16 years and anxiety and depression at 18.

METHODS: Participants (n = 14,665; complete cases n = 1869) were from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a UK-based prospective cohort study. We assessed associations between various types of screen time (watching television, using a computer, and texting, all measured via questionnaire at 16y), both on weekdays and at weekends, and anxiety and depression (measured via the Revised Clinical Interview Schedule at 18y). Using ordinal logistic regression, we adjusted for multiple confounders, particularly focussing on activities that might have been replaced by screen time (for example exercising or playing outdoors).

RESULTS: More time spent using a computer on weekdays was associated with a small increased risk of anxiety (OR for 1-2 h = 1.17, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.35; OR for 3+ hours = 1.30, 95% CI: 1.10 to 1.55, both compared to < 1 h, p for linear trend = 0.003). We found a similar association between computer use at weekends and anxiety (OR for 1-2 h = 1.17, 95% CI: 0.94 to 1.46; OR for 3+ hours = 1.28, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.48, p for linear trend = 0.03). Greater time spent using a computer on weekend days only was associated with a small increased risk in depression (OR for 1-2 h = 1.12, 95% CI: 0.93 to 1.35; OR for 3+ hours = 1.35, 95% CI: 1.10 to 1.65, p for linear trend = 0.003). Adjusting for time spent alone attenuated effects for anxiety but not depression. There was little evidence for associations with texting or watching television.

CONCLUSIONS: We found associations between increased screen time, particularly computer use, and a small increased risk of anxiety and depression. Time spent alone was found to attenuate some associations, and further research should explore this.

    Research areas

  • Adolescent, Anxiety/epidemiology, Computers/statistics & numerical data, Depression/epidemiology, Female, Humans, Male, Prospective Studies, Risk Factors, Screen Time, Time Factors, United Kingdom/epidemiology

    Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Physical and Mental Health

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