The AMA House of Delegates (HOD) has adopted a pair of policies that call for examining media consumption and educating physicians and patients about the potential effects of overexposure, with a particular focus on younger content consumers.

Television remains the primary medium, but as mobile devices become more prevalent opportunities for youth to fixate on screens have increased. Too much screen time can lead to wide range of morbidities such as obesity, sleep problems, depression and anxiety. Delegates adopted new policy that calls on the AMA to encourage primary and secondary schools to incorporate into health class curricula balancing exposure to screens with physical activity and sleep.

Delegates also adopted policy directing the AMA to encourage primary care physicians to assess pediatric patients on the amount of time they spend daily interacting with screens and how that is affecting how much these children move and sleep.

“Mobile phones and tablets undoubtedly have educational and recreational benefits, but it is critical, particularly for young people, that screen time be balanced with physical activity and sleep,” said AMA Board Member Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH. “Physicians can play an important role in educating patients and parents about this balancing act, at home and in schools. To improve the health and wellbeing of young people, all of us must do more to address the harmful effects of screen time.”

Social media use in spotlight

The American Academy of Pediatrics has for years acknowledged the risks that preteen and teens develop depression when spending significant time on social media platforms. A 2015 survey found that 92 percent of teens go online daily. Much of that online time is spent on social networks—71 percent of American teenagers use Facebook, 52 percent use Instagram and 41 percent use Snapchat.

To that end, AMA policy adopted this week calls for the Association to advocate for the creation of scholastic programs through which students can learn to detect and then mitigate “the mental health sequelae of social media usage.” The HOD also directed the AMA to collaborate with relevant organizations to support the development of continuing medical education programs that increase physicians’ knowledge of the health impacts of social media usage. The AMA also will support the development of “clinical tools and protocols for the identification, treatment, and referral of children, adolescents and adults at risk for and experiencing health sequelae of social media usage.”

“Social media has the power to bring people closer together and to build communities, but research also is showing a link between increased social media use and an uptick in anxiety and depression," said AMA Board Member Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH. "In addition to increasing awareness of these dangers among parents and teens, we must do more in our schools to identify and address them as early as possible.”

Read more news coverage of the 2017 AMA Interim Meeting.

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