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How social media is linked to risky behaviours

Young people who frequently use social media are at risk of developing unhealthy behaviours including increased alcohol use and anti-social behaviour

The findings showed that spending at least two hours a day on social media doubled the risk of alcohol consumption.(Pixabay)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 30.11.2023  |  04:30 PM IST

Young people who frequently use social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are at risk of developing unhealthy behaviours including increased alcohol use and anti-social behaviour, a new study reveals. The findings showed that spending at least two hours a day on social media doubled the risk of alcohol consumption.

The study, published in the journal BMJ, examined the association between social media use and health risk behaviours in adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years. The results showed that frequent or daily social media use was associated with higher risks of alcohol consumption (48%), drug use (28%) and tobacco use (85%), a press statement revealed.

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Notably, exposure to content such as alcohol advertising had the strongest evidence of harm, particularly regarding alcohol use and unhealthy eating. Frequent social media use was also linked to risky sexual behaviours such as transactional sex, and inconsistent condom use, anti-social behaviour such as bullying, physical assault, and aggressive/delinquent behaviour, the statement explained. Furthermore, the risk of participating in gambling increased by three times compared to non-daily use.

Regarding alcohol consumption, stronger associations were observed among adolescents aged 16 years and older and for exposure to user-generated content.

While social media’s influence has rapidly expanded and is often considered a platform to talk about health, there are also concerns about how it can trigger unhealthy behaviours among young adults.

“Experimental and risk-taking behaviours are an inherent part of adolescence," the researchers wrote in the paper. “However, as safeguards for a digital world are still evolving, precaution across academic, governmental, health and educational sectors may be warranted before the risks of adolescents’ use of social media are fully understood."

Previous studies have shown how excessive use of social media can be harmful to health. For instance, a study published in the journal American Economic Review in September 2022 showed how social media impacts mental health. The researchers found a strong link between the use of Facebook and an increase in anxiety and depression among college students. Notably, college-wide access to the social media platform led to a 7% increase in severe depression among the students

These findings show the profound effects frequent use of social media can have on physical as well as mental health and emphasise the importance of establishing a healthy relationship with social media.

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