A June study by researchers from the University of Sydney highlighted concerning trends of increased screen time, alcohol use, and poor sleep for teenagers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase has implications for teens' long-term health, said researchers.
The study examined survey responses from almost 1,000 Australian teens across the states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, with the cohort age averaging 12.6 years old.
Overall, the team found an 8 percent increase in teenagers engaging in recreational screen time for more than two hours a day. Ninety-four percent of surveyed teens reported excessive levels of recreational screen time during the pandemic, compared to 86 percent pre-pandemic.
“Though social media and video chat can foster social connection and support, we found that most of the adolescents’ screen use during the pandemic didn’t serve this purpose,” said Nagata.
In addition to the screen time increase, a greater number of teens reported alcohol consumption: an increase from 2 percent to 10 percent of survey respondents. While researchers expected an increase in alcohol consumption as the cohort aged; they were surprised to find that it was greater for females than males.
Sleep duration was reported to have increased from 2019 to 2021. However, insufficient sleep—sleep duration below 8 to 11 hours—was still more prevalent for females compared to males, with around an extra third of female respondents reporting insufficient sleep.
Other risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity also reported increases. Researchers say the increases, although associated with the pandemic, were not significant.
“Supporting young people to improve or maintain positive health behaviors is important,” she said. “The full extent of the impact of the pandemic on children and young people is being recognized internationally.”