Excessive Texting, Networking Linked To Smoking, Drinking, Health Risks In Teens
Researchers who surveyed over 4,000 American high school students found that excessive texting and social networking was linked to a range of poor health behaviors, including smoking, drinking, use of drugs and sexual activity.
Dr. Scott Frank, director of the Master of Public Health program at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, led the study and presented the findings at the 138th Annual Meeting & Exposition of the American Public Health Association held from 6 to 10 November in Denver, Colorado.
While the numbers of teenagers using communication technology like cell phones and internet is increasing, there is little public health knowledge about how excessive use may be linked to health risks, although new research is beginning to emerge in this area, for example last week, delegates at another conference heard about how bedtime texting was linked to disturbed sleep and mood in teenagers.
With his colleagues, Frank, who is also a family doctor, director of a local health department and of a substance abuse prevention coalition, set out to discover what proportion of teenagers were engaging in “hyper-texting”, that is sending 120 text messages or more during a school day, and “hyper-networking”, that is using online social networking sites for at least 3 hours per school day, and how this was linked to health.
For the study, they carried out a cross-sectional survey of 4,257 students attending high schools in an urban Midwestern county. The survey included questions taken from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, with some added items to cover use of communication technology and other health topics.
The results showed that 19.8 per cent of teens were engaging in hyper-texting, and 22.5 per cent were not texting at all. Similarly, 11.5 per cent of teens were engaging in hyper-networking, while 22.2 per cent said they did not engage in any online social networking.
The researchers found that hyper-texters were:
- 40 per cent more likely to have tried cigarettes,
- Twice as likely to have tried alcohol,
- 43 per cent more likely to binge drink,
- 41 per cent more likely to have used illicit drugs,
- 55 per cent more likely to have been in a physical fight,
- Nearly 3.5 times more likely to have had sex, and
- 90 per cent more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners.
And they found that hyper-networkers were:
- 62 per cent more likely to have tried cigarettes,
- 79 per cent more likely to have tried alcohol,
- 69 per cent more likely to binge drink,
- 84 per cent more likely to have used illicit drugs,
- 94 per cent more likely to have been in a physical fight,
- 69 per cent more likely to have had sex, and
- 60 per cent more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners.
The researchers also found that hyper-texting and hyper-networking was also more prevalent among minority students, females, students living in households where there was no father living at home, and with lower socioeconomic status.
After taking demographic factors into account, hyper-texting and hyper-networking was also linked to perceived stress, having suicidal thoughts, obesity, disordered eating behavior, missing school due to illness, having lower self-rated health, feeling unsafe at school, not getting enough sleep, and parental permissiveness.
The researchers found that not texting or social networking was linked to better health outcomes.
They concluded that:
“Excessive use of communications technology among teens is related to higher levels of health risk behaviors and poorer health outcomes.”
In a media statement, Frank described the results as a “wake-up call for parents”, and that they should be keeping their children safe not only by discouraging texting while driving but also by discouraging too much use of the cell phone and social websites:
“The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers,” he added.
As far as we know, this study has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.