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expert reaction to observational study on internet use, sleep duration, exercise and school absences

A study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood looks at internet use, sleep, exercise and school absences.

Prof Pete Etchells, Professor of Psychology and Science Communication, Bath Spa University, said:

“The press release refers to ‘online addiction’, which was not measured in this study. The authors of the research also make this same conflation – in the study, they measured a construct called ‘excessive internet use’, but this is not the same as addiction, and there is no formalised clinically validated measure of internet addiction. Both in the press release and the paper itself, there is conjecture regarding the nature of the online activity that girls and boys engage in, but this simply isn’t measured in the study.

“Overall, I’m not convinced that this study adds much in terms of what we know about the relationship between digital technology use and negative outcomes. It is yet another cross-sectional, correlational study that relies on self-report data, and it’s not clear that more studies of this nature are adding anything new to our understanding of digital technology effects any more – they cannot establish causality, and there are significant problems with relying on self-report, subjective data. ‘Being online’ is such a broad concept, it does not even begin to capture the nuance and complexity of the types of activities that adolescents engage in online. Given that focus, I would be very reticent to suggest that there are any useful implications for health promotion initiatives. We need to look beyond simple but ultimately unhelpful measures such as ‘being online’ or ‘screen time’ if we want to enact meaningful and positive changes.”

‘Associations of excessive internet use, sleep duration and physical activity with school absences: a cross-sectional, population-based study of adolescents in years 8 and 9’ by Silja Kosola et al. was published in Archives of Disease in Childhood at 23:30 UK time on Tuesday 16th April.

DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2023-326331

Declared interests

Prof Pete Etchells: Prof Pete Etchells is the author of Unlocked: The real science of screen time (and how to spend it better)

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