'Problematic Internet usage' more common than asthma

Studies examining the effect of media on youth in the U.S. find a correlation between over-usage and depression, sleep issues, obesity, and poor school performance.

Ever feel like this at the end of the day?
Photo Extremist/Flickr

Two recently published studies out of Seattle Children's Research Institute indicate that certain levels of media usage can lead to depression in college students as well as disrupt sleep patterns in preschool children.

Not exactly earth-shattering.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the researchers found in the first study that out of the 224 college students who took the Internet Addiction Test, only 9 of them (4 percent) scored in the "occasional problem" or "addicted" range.

To put what sounds like a small number in perspective, the researchers say that Internet over-usage is now more prevalent than asthma.

"Pediatricians and parents continue to report overuse of the Internet in their patients and children," says Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the research institute. "Given the Internet is woven into the fabric of the lives of this generation of children, concerns about the potential for addiction are warranted and today's college students are clearly at risk."

In the second study of more than 600 children aged three to five years, which was led by Dr. Michelle Garrison, sleep problems (including trouble falling asleep, nightmares, waking throughout the night, and daytime sleepiness) increased for every hour a child was exposed to violent media content or evening media. (Daytime viewing of nonviolent content did not appear to lead to an increase in sleep problems.)

"Early childhood sleep disruption has been associated with obesity, behavior problems, and poor school performance," Garrison says. "We advise parents to choose nonviolent media content, and to avoid media screen-time entirely during the hour before bed. Removing televisions and other media devices from the child's bedroom can be an important first step."

Growing up in a house with one television set that we were allowed to watch for one hour a week, the notion of having had a screen in my actual bedroom is downright bizarre. I had books.

But that was the oh-so-distant era of the 1980s. With highly-portable laptops, cell phones, and tablets laying about, removing screens from kids' bedrooms, at least at bedtime, may today be a goal that needs setting--even if that screen is being used to, ahem, read.