Impact of social media and screen use on young people’s health – consultation response

In 2018 we responded to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry on the impact of social media and screen use on young people’s health. We welcome the opportunity to respond to this inquiry as promoting both the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is a continued priority area for RCPCH.

This response focuses on key evidence messages relating to screen use and screen time; this is largely based on our own systematic review evidence. Whilst we have touched on the impact of social media, we defer to others who have conducted more research into this area.

The full details of the terms of reference of the inquiry is available online.

Our response

  • There is inconsistent evidence for the impact of screen time on health.
  • Evidence is strongest for an association between screen-time, adiposity and diet outcomes. There is also moderately strong evidence for an association between screen time and depressive symptoms, as well as moderate evidence that screen time is associated with poorer quality of life.
  • We are concerned that so little research has been done into the benefits and harms from social media and mobile phone screen use when it affects almost all young people.
  • We welcome the NSPCC Wild West Web campaign and agree that the Government should be working to implement laws to keep social media companies in check and keep young people safe on their sites.

Our recommendations

  • More research should be conducted into the influences of social media on young people’s lives, such that the benefits and harms can be further explored and addressed.
  • The Government should repeat the Survey of Mental Health of Children and Young People every three years and extend it to Northern Ireland, to identify the prevalence of mental health problems among children and young people in order to aid the planning of health care services.
  • We encourage awareness raising of online safety risks in schools through the PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) curriculum.
  • Due to the limited evidence for a threshold of screen time, we recommend that parents and health professionals in the UK follow the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) guidance, in the absence of any similar guidance in the UK. We recommend that further research into screen time thresholds and dose-response relationships is commissioned as a priority by the UK Government to establish similar guidance in the UK.
  • Clear strategies and guidance to raise awareness of the benefits and harms of screen use are also needed.

We respond to a wide range of consultations to ensure that the College’s position, and ultimately children’s health, is represented. Members can get involved in current consultations by contacting the Health Policy team: