VITAL SIGNS

Behaviour: Excess usage of the phone is linked to health problems

A new study suggests that school students who spend the most time texting or on social network sites (or both) are at risk for a host of worrisome behaviours, including smoking, risky sex, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse.

The study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in the United States of America is based on data from questions posed last year to more than 4,000 students at 20 urban high schools in Ohio, USA.

About one-fifth sent at least 120 text messages a day, one-tenth were on social networks for three hours or more, and 4 per cent did both.

That 4 per cent were at twice the risk of non-users for fighting, smoking, binge drinking, becoming cyber victims and thinking about suicide.

The researchers emphasised that texting and social networking did not necessarily cause the other problems. But the lead author, Dr Scott Frank, a family physician who is director of the public-health master’s programme at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said: “If they’re working hard to fit in through their social networks, they’re also trying to fit in through other behaviours they perceive as popular, like smoking or drinking, sex and getting involved in higher-risk adolescent behaviour.”

Girls, members of minorities and teenagers from low-income backgrounds were at greater risk, but the pattern persisted even after researchers controlled for those factors. (One in five teenagers reported no texting and no online social networking at all.)

Dr Frank noted that the most avid texters also rated their parents as more permissive.
“This is a red flag for parents,” he said, “because they need to be monitoring and taking charge of the choices their kids are making. We want parents to set more restrictive rules for their kids regarding texting and networking, just as they would set rules about whether their child can go out on a school night and socialise for three hours.”

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