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CMO report is unable to shed light on impact of screen time and social media on children’s health

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 08 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l643

Linked opinion

Screen time and social media: Interventions to protect our children’s health

  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. London, UK

The government wants formal guidance for health professionals and parents on the impact on screen time and social media on children’s health. But a new report from the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers says more robust evidence is needed, reports Nigel Hawkes

Is time spent on screens and social media a risk to children’s health? In the latest report1 to be published on this topic, England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Sally Davies and her opposite numbers in the devolved nations conclude that the evidence base is currently insufficient to answer this, or to support guidelines on optimal amounts of screen use or online activities.

Instead, they repeat the advice already offered by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which suggests families ask themselves if their screen time is out of control. Does it interfere with what your family wants to do? Does it interfere with sleep? Can you control snacking while online?

These are good questions, but what health secretary Matt Hancock wanted was more clear cut. “Unrestricted use of social media by younger children risks being damaging to their mental health,” he told the Observer2 last September. “So I have asked the chief medical …

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