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April 10, 2014

Health Check #1 - Community views on the health impact of screen time

Concerns about health impacts of 'screen time' are growing.

Australian adults now average more time in front of a screen than they do sleeping, but do not fully understand the associated health risks, or how to change their behaviour.

A new community survey commissioned by Medibank also reveals that a majority of parents are very concerned about the time their children spend on screens and the effect it is having on their health.

The Medibank Health Check - Is it time to unplug? is the first in a series of community surveys which will examine Australians' views on emerging health issues.

The first independent survey asked 1,505 Australians their views about the amount of time they spend in front of screens (computer, TV, smartphone, tablet).

Respondents estimated they spend about nine hours a day looking at a screen - six hours for leisure and three hours for work or study - which is more than the eight hour recommended average adult daily sleep-time.

National Medical Director at Medibank, Dr Ian Boyd, said some of the key results were concerning.

"It is worrying that adults are spending more time in front of screens than sleeping, and while they want to change their behaviour they don't seem to know what to do about it," Dr Boyd said.

"While 62 per cent of respondents know that reduced physical activity is a consequence of too much screen time, almost half of those surveyed also failed to recognise the likelihood of the known health risks of screen time which include obesity, attention difficulty, low self-esteem and depression."

Dr Boyd said that concerns adults held for themselves were in contrast to those they had for their children, with a majority particularly worried about the impact of too much screen time on their children's health and development.

"More than 60 per cent of respondents with children agreed that screen time affects their family time, and their family's health, and 57 per cent of these want to cut back on screen time," Dr Boyd said.

"And one in five say that if they weren't in front of a screen they would be involved in a physical activity instead such as going for a walk or riding a bike."

Dr Boyd said that enough concern had been raised about screen-time to warrant further research and education to improve community health outcomes.

"There needs to be much greater community education around what are safe levels of screen time and more programs are needed to encourage people to unplug and get involved in other recreational activities," he said.

"The benefits of unplugging and spending more time being active are clear for both adults and children, and we need to be encouraging this before people accept our over-use of screens as the norm."


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