Social media may have some positive aspects, such as the ability to reach many audiences. But it may also have detrimental consequences to users’ health. A recent study published by a team of researchers writing in The BMJ (the British Medical Journal) warns that social media use may have a link to health-risk behaviors in young people, such as an increased participation in gambling.
A phone displaying various social media app icons. New research suggests a link between daily social media exposure and an increased propensity for gambling among adolescents. (Image: Getty Images)
The research, “Social media use and health risk behaviours in young people: systematic review and meta-analysis, doesn’t specifically focus on gambling specifically. It also suggests ties between daily social media participation and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, as well as antisocial behavior and risky sexual practices.
This is correlative to other research that looked for similar relationships.
Preteen Social Media Use Harmful
Previous studies have pointed to detrimental connections linking social media to certain risky behaviors. However, most had focused exclusively on students at the university level. Therefore, the researchers in The BMJ study wanted to take a closer look at the relationship between health risk behaviors and time spent on social media in adolescents from ages 10 to 19.
The research analyzed more than 126 studies between 1997 and 2022. Combined, it involved around 139 million adolescents with an average age of 15.
Exposure to content on social media that promotes unhealthy behaviors, including alcohol, showed significant potential for causing harm. This is especially true when it comes to increased alcohol consumption and adopting unhealthy eating habits.
The analyses revealed that using social media platforms every day increased the odds of participating in gambling by almost 200%, compared to infrequent use. This doesn’t necessarily equate to a definite rise in increased gambling, as a separate study the UK Gambling Commission produced last month showed that youth gambling is on the decline.
There was also a pattern in alcohol use and drug use, at 48% and 28%, respectively, in contrast to infrequent use. With alcohol consumption, more marked associations were observed in adolescents over 16 years of age. Tobacco use, at 85%, showed the highest potential link.
The results indicated a possible link between frequent social media activity and risky sexual behaviors, including sexting and unsafe sex. In addition, a connection was also observed with antisocial behavior, including bullying, physical aggression, and truancy.
Exposure to social media content that promotes health-risk behaviors was especially associated with unhealthy eating habits and alcohol consumption.
More Research Necessary
Most of the studies were conducted in high-income nations and varied in quality. However, researchers were able to assess the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE system.
GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations), has become the go-to method for evaluating evidence in research in health care. It’s used by organizations worldwide and has become part of standard clinical practice guidelines in several countries.
Researchers acknowledge the need for more studies to establish causal relationships and understand the impacts on health disparities. The additional research can also help to determine which specific factors of social media exposure may have the most detrimental effects.
They also pointed out that many social media usage studies were based on personal memories. This means that there may be factors, including learned behaviors from home environments, that weren’t taken into consideration, but which may influence the results.
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