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Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2019 Oct;3(10):685-696. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30186-5. Epub 2019 Aug 13.

Roles of cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity in mediating the effects of social media use on mental health and wellbeing among young people in England: a secondary analysis of longitudinal data.

Author information

1
Population, Policy, & Practice Programme, University College London Great Ormond St Institute of Child Health, London, UK. Electronic address: r.viner@ucl.ac.uk.
2
Population, Policy, & Practice Programme, University College London Great Ormond St Institute of Child Health, London, UK.
3
Centre for Psychiatry, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.

Erratum in

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

There is growing concern about the potential associations between social media use and mental health and wellbeing in young people. We explored associations between the frequency of social media use and later mental health and wellbeing in adolescents, and how these effects might be mediated.

METHODS:

We did secondary analyses of publicly available data from the Our Futures study, a nationally representative, longitudinal study of 12 866 young people from age 13 years to 16 years in England. The exposure considered was the frequency of social media use (from weekly or less to very frequent [multiple times daily]) at wave 1 (participants aged 13-14 years) through wave 3 of the study (participants aged 15-16 years). Outcomes were mental health at wave 2 (with high 12-item General Health Questionnaire [GHQ12] scores [≥3] indicating psychological distress), and wellbeing at wave 3 (life satisfaction, feeling life is worthwhile, happiness, and anxiety, rated from 1 to 10 by participants). Analyses were adjusted for a minimal sufficient confounding structure, and were done separately for boys and girls. Cyberbullying, sleep adequacy, and physical activity were assessed as potential mediators of the effects.

FINDINGS:

Very frequent use of social media increased from wave 1 to wave 3: from 34·4% (95% CI 32·4-36·4) to 61·9% (60·3-63·6) in boys, and 51·4% (49·5-53·3) to 75·4% (73·8-76·9) in girls. Very frequent social media use in wave 1 predicted a high GHQ12 score at wave 2 among girls (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1·31 [95% CI 1·06-1·63], p=0·014; N=4429) and boys (1·67 [1·24-2·26], p=0·0009; N=4379). Persistent very frequent social media use across waves 1 and 2 predicted lower wellbeing among girls only (adjusted ORs 0·86 [0·74-0·99], N=3753, p=0·039 for life satisfaction; 0·80 [0·70-0·92], N=3831, p=0·0013 for happiness; 1·28 [1·11-1·48], N=3745, p=0·0007 for anxiety). Adjustment for cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity attenuated the associations of social media use with GHQ12 high score (proportion mediated 58·2%), life satisfaction (80·1%), happiness (47·7%), and anxiety (32·4%) in girls, such that these associations (except for anxiety) were no longer significant; however, the association with GHQ12 high score among boys remained significant, being mediated only 12·1% by these factors.

INTERPRETATION:

Mental health harms related to very frequent social media use in girls might be due to a combination of exposure to cyberbullying or displacement of sleep or physical activity, whereas other mechanisms appear to be operative in boys. Interventions to promote mental health should include efforts to prevent or increase resilience to cyberbullying and ensure adequate sleep and physical activity in young people.

FUNDING:

None.

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