This Unhealthy Daily Habit may be Fueling ADHD Rates

This Unhealthy Daily Habit may be Fueling ADHD Rates
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In a study published July 17 in the medical journal JAMA, researchers warn that the more time teens spend on social media and streaming videos, the more likely they are to develop symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. [1]

ADHD is a unique condition in that millions of children and teens have been diagnosed with the disorder, yet scientists don’t fully understand what causes it. About 6.1% of American children are being treated for ADHD – a 42% increase over the past 8 years. [2]

(Some scientists don’t believe that ADHD is a real condition at all – merely symptoms influenced by a child’s environment and other factors.)

Lead study author Adam Leventhal, a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, remarked:

“If we can determine if there is a potential causal link that is consistent across studies, then we can design interventions to curb media exposure. Even simple educational information to let teachers, parents, and pediatric health professionals know that there could be an increased risk when they talk with their teens about digital media use might be helpful.”

Read: 1 in 5 Children are Improperly Diagnosed with ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, restlessness, or impulsivity. That might sound like normal teenage behavior, but in kids diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms occur more frequently and severely.

He added:

“If we can identify any potential risk factor that is implicated in this disorder then that’s important, especially ones that are modifiable like digital media use.”

Findings from the Study

For the study, researchers monitored the ADHD symptoms of nearly 2,600 high-schoolers who were surveyed about their digital media use. Teens who used multiple types of digital media multiple times a day were approximately twice as likely to report new symptoms of ADHD over the course of 2 years compared to teens who were less digitally-active. [3]

  • More than half of the teens surveyed reported checking social media sites and texts “frequently.”
  • More than 40% said they also looked at pictures or streamed videos frequently.
  • 38% streamed or downloaded media frequently. [4]

The study doesn’t show that digital media use causes ADHD, nor does it go into detail about how the symptoms affected teens’ lives. But it does show that the students in the study were using digital media before their symptoms started. In fact, none of the teens had ADHD symptoms at the beginning of the study. [3] [4]

  • Those who spent the most time using digital media were 53% more likely to develop ADHD symptoms, according to the researchers.
  • Teens who spent a lot of time texting were 21% more likely than infrequent texters to show symptoms.
  • Students who reported looking at pictures and streaming media were found to be 45% more likely to have ADHD symptoms.
  • Video chatting wasn’t especially popular among teens – just 8.8% said they chatted with friends via video – but those students were more than twice as likely to report ADHD symptoms, the study shows.

Of the thousands of students researchers followed, only 495 were infrequent digital media consumers. About 4.6% of those who said they weren’t regular digital media users developed ADHD symptoms over the next 2 years. Only 114 of the young respondents said they used technology for 7 different activities frequently, but 9.5% of them developed ADHD symptoms.

Leventhal said in a statement:

“This study raises concern whether the proliferation of high-performance digital media technologies may be putting a new generation of youth at risk for ADHD.”

The study suggests that more research is needed to determine whether ADHD symptoms can be caused by social media use.


[1] CNN

[2] Healthline

[3] The Verge

[4] NBC News