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NIHR-funded research identifies worrying trends between screen use and lower physical activity


Two thirds of children use more than one screen at the same time after school, in the evenings and at weekends as part of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, according to new NIHR-funded research.

A study led by researchers at the University of Leicester involving more than 800 adolescent girls between the ages of 11 and 14, identified worrying trends between screen use and lower physical activity, including higher BMI and less sleep.

Screen stacking (using multiple screens at the same time), grew over the course of the week, with 59% of adolescents using two or more screens after school, 65% in the evenings, and 68% at weekends. Some teens also report using as many as four screens at one time.

But further analysis showed the use of any screen still had a negative effect on health and wellbeing. More than 90% owned or had access to a smart phone and using this after school had a knock on effect on their sleep. 

Researchers from the University’s Diabetes Research Centre measured physical activity and sleep using accelerometers worn on participants’ wrists, while those involved in the study self-reported the number of screens they were using at the same time, such as scrolling on a mobile phone while also watching TV, as well as perceptions of self-esteem and physical self-worth.

Dr Deirdre Harrington, Lecturer in Physical Activity for Health and study lead said: “Intuitively, we believe there must be negative effects on teenagers of using too many screens at the same time. Our data show it isn’t as simple as that.

“This research was done before the COVID-19 lockdown, where much more of our day is spent in front of a screen. More than ever the effects of this on adolescents need to be known – there are positives too, no doubt”.

Melanie Davies, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Leicester and Co-Director of the Leicester Diabetes Centre based at Leicester General Hospital, said: “Sadly, this study reminds us that we are in danger of creating a new generation of sedentary children. Increased sedentary time is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, which is increasing in younger age groups.

“The number of young people with type 2 diabetes has gone up by 50% in just five years.”

Read more about this study on the NIHR Funding and Awards website

This research was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research Programme. To find out more about our funding programmes, please visit our explore NIHR pages.