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expert reaction to systematic review and meta-analysis on social media use in young people and risky health behaviours

A study published in The BMJ looks at social media use and health risk behaviours in young people. 


Prof Mina Fazel, Professor of Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

“When looking at studies like this, it is not only time but what young people might be doing online and which sites they are accessing that needs to be considered- especially as what young people’s social media use changes substantially with constantly shifting trends and emerging platforms. There are likely to be both positive and negative effects of social media use and understanding what young people might see, through choice or as a result of what comes up on the platforms they are accessing (the algorithms), are essential parts of their experiences and social relationships.”


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

“This is now one of many meta-analyses and systematic reviews that attempt to provide a coherent overview of the vast number of studies looking at the potential relationship between social media use and various types of negative impact. While methodical and systematic, I don’t think this study can tell us anything new or useful about those links. The vast majority of the data on which the paper relies is self-report social media use, and we know from other recent research that we shouldn’t have much confidence in the accuracy of subjective measures of screen time. We also continue to struggle with specific theoretical mechanisms as to why we might see some of the effects reported – for example, the authors note that more than 2 hours of social media use per day is associated with increased alcohol consumption. This seems to be a very specific number, and it’s not clear to me why screen time cutoffs like this would have any theory-driven effect. While this study suggests that there may be some sort of link between social media use and risky behaviours, it cannot tell us anything about causality. If we want to move this field forward, we need to get much better at clearly defining what specific sorts of harm we think might be linked to social media use, and how these interact with beneficial impacts.”


‘Social media use and health risk behaviours in young people:  systematic review and meta-analysis’ by Amrit Kaur Purba et al. was published in The BMJ at 23:30 UK time on Wednesday 29th November 2023.


DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2022-073552



Declared interests

Prof Mina Fazel: With a team of researchers and local authority health and education partners, I run the OxWell Student Survey.

Prof Peter Etchells: I am the author of Unlocked: The real science of screen time (and how to spend it better), which is due to be published in March 2024.

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