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Australians spend more time in front of screens than sleeping

News — Posted 10/04/14

A new Medibank study finds we’re averaging nine hours a day looking at computers, TVs, smartphones and tablets. How does this impact our health?

Australian adults are spending more time in front of screens than sleeping, according to a new community survey commissioned by Medibank.

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. For this study, 1,505 Australians were asked about their views on screen usage and its impact on health.

A clear conclusion has been found: people suspect there is something concerning about the amount of time they spend in front of screens, but they are uncertain about exactly what the health impact is.

Snapshot of screen use

The key findings of the study include:

• People spend a lot of time on screens. Respondents estimated they spend an average of six hours a day in front of screens for leisure, and a further three hours for work or study. When combined, this is more than the recommended eight hours for sleep.

• Most of this time is in front of computers. About 40% of this time is in front of computers, with TV taking the next biggest time share at 31%.

• There is uncertainty about health risks. While 62% of respondents know that reduced physical activity is a consequence of too much screen time, almost half of those surveyed failed to recognise the likelihood of other health risks, which include obesity, attention difficulty, low self-esteem and depression.

What influences screen use?

• Age influences which screens you’re using. In general terms, the older you are the less time you are likely to spend in front of TVs and smartphones. The opposite is generally true for computers – the older you are, the more time you are likely to spend in front of computers.

• Screen time is consistent across Australia. The study found little difference in screen use across states and only minor difference between rural versus metro locations.

• Higher income links to more screens, but not necessarily more screen time. Households with higher income are more likely to have a larger number of screens available within the home. However, the amount of time spent in front of screens does not vary significantly by income.

What does this mean? 

Medibank spokesman Dr Ian Boyd said some of the key results in the Medibank Health Check survey 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,” he said.

“More than 60% of respondents with children agreed that screen time affects their family time, and their family’s health, and 57% of these want to cut back on screen time.

“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 run, riding a bike or going for a walk.”

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 is needed 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.”

Read the full Medibank Health Check  is it time to unplug? report for more information.

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