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Your screen and your health

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Paul Bass
5th year medical student
University of the Gambia

UTG Medical Students’ Association

Introduction to screens

Without inventions man’s superior intelligence will be of no benefit since he will live in and leave the world as he met it, improving nothing and destroying certain things. But in an ever-evolving world in which inventions have shaped and coloured the way we see and do things, screen (Television and Phones) inventions have so far stood out.

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It was March 7, 1876, when the Scottish-born Alexandra Graham Bell was credited with developing the first telephone. The world rejoiced because this magical device was meant to change the course of communication in the cosmos forever and it obviously did that. It has eliminated the distance that exists between the giver and receiver of information and turned it into a matter of mere will and desire and nothing more for one to communicate.

One would have thought human invention had reached its peak until Taylor Farnsworth shocked the world with his invention of the electric Television in the 20th century. These two inventions have since then shaped the course of humanity and have so far made life fun and communication has never been easier.

These simple and crude inventions over time have been remodelled into sophisticated appliances that do not fail to come with their Side effects. As much as they improve lives and add to comfort, they also come with serious health challenges that cannot be ignored especially in times we are in when digital media is the order of the day.

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What is screen time?

This is the amount of time you spend on your screen each day. The screen could be your computer, television or Mobile phone. The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that on average, kids between the ages of 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day on screen. With more than 4 hours out of the 7.5 hours spent watching TV and the remaining time spent on phones and video games.

The average adult on the other hand spends about 11 hours on screen every day. This is also because most of these people work remotely and even those who work onsite spend some of this time on their computers and mobile phones.

The temptation to stay current on what is happening around the world is at its peak and no one wants to be left out.

The development of social media apps such as YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram, TikTok, and Facebook on the other hand has just contributed to the already existing problem that humans have been battling with. These apps can keep one glued to their screens even after spending 8 hours on their computer at work, they still have to spend some hours on these apps. You may call that an addiction but we will leave that discussion for another day.

How much screen time is okay?

Health experts recommend that screen time outside of work-related activities should be reduced to less than two hours per day. This of course is difficult but pays a lot. To achieve this one might have to mute some applications on their phones or delete some of them that are of little benefit. You may also have to closely monitor your kids’ screen time and reduce it to a minimum while giving them more time for exercise and other offscreen activities.

What risk does too much screen time pose on your health?

According to Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, who doubles as an associate professor of Social and Behavioral Science at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health; A child’s brain is constantly growing and building neural connection while eliminating the less used ones. Children therefore need a diversity of both online and offline resources including allowing their mind to wonder since boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen, he said.

Social media however creates an unhealthy stimulation of the developing brain compared to reality.

Sleep which is also an important requirement for proper brain development is disturbed, and Teens who stay up late on their phones at night are not only deprived of time for sleep but also lose the Rapid Eye movement sleep that enhances relaxation, the processing and storing of that day’s information into memory. You will notice that although that teenager was present and fully awake in class, they will pretty much forget what was actually said or done.

In a separate study done in 2021 by Dr Rucha R Lohi – Assistant Professor, Datta Meghe Institute of Management Studies, et al, they collected data from a group of 250 individuals on the impact of long screen time and their health.

The research found there exists a strong correlation between long hours of screen time and adverse health and development outcomes. Symptoms such as dry itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, blurry vision, headaches, anxiety, poor judgement fatigue and sleeplessness.

And since too much screen time means sitting or lying for long which correlates to inactivity, it also predisposes to other health problems like obesity, born pain, or piles.

Conclusion

Screens are good and have become an essential part of our comfort. The caution however lies in the amount of time we spend on them which directly relates to poor health outcomes. Since we desire health and a good life, let us start working towards achieving that by cutting down our screen time, which starts now!

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