'Screen stacking' can contribute to poor sleep, higher BMI and less physical activity
From social distancing to self isolation - there's numerous words and behaviours that we're likely to leave the coronavirus pandemic with memories of. But there's another term which could sum up a good chunk of our behaviour during the last year and that's 'screen stacking'.
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The phrase describes someone who is using several devices, such as computers, televisions or mobile phones, all at once.
And after a year of home school, home working, online shopping and trying to maintain regular contact with family and friends virtually - it's perhaps no wonder we've all become guilty of splitting our attention between a growing number of screens.
From watching television whilst messaging friends to joining a virtual work meeting at the same time as checking emails on a smartphone, with such a reliance on devices many of us may admit to now being digital multi-taskers on a very regular basis.
And whilst a global survey of 55,000 adults in 2014 - into whether watching television whilst using a second device could become a 'majority worldwide behaviour' - suggested that just 48% 'multi-screened' those figures are likely to have dramatically increased since.
In fact research just released from one UK university warns that many of our children are now regularly 'screen stacking' as many as four devices at once, which can impact health and well-being.
From gaming while face-timing friends to watching tv and scrolling social media sites simultaneously, experts at The University of Leicester say two-thirds of children use more than one screen at the same time after school, in the evenings and at weekends as part of increasingly 'sedentary lifestyles'.
During investigations into 'screen stacking', researchers studied more than 800 girls and found 'worrying trends' between screen use and lower physical activity, higher BMI and less sleep.
Experts from the Leicester Diabetes Centre based at the university measured physical activity and sleep using accelerometers worn on participants’ wrists, while those involved in the study self-reported the number of screens they were using simultaneously.
And as families got closer to the end of the week the use of concurrent screens also grew – with 59% using two or more after school, 65% turning to them in the evenings, increasing to 68% of girls at weekends.
With much of Leicester's research, perhaps worryingly, conducted before the pandemic hit when children may have been considerably more active than they've been more recently, Dr Deirdre Harrington, who led the study, said more should be understood about the complexities of 'screen stacking'.
She explained: “Intuitively, we believe there must be negative effects on teenagers of using too many screens at the same time.
“This research was done before the COVID-19 lockdown, where much more of our day is now spent in front of a screen. More than ever the effects of this on adolescents need to be known – there are positives too, no doubt.
“These adolescents wore an accelerometer 24 hours a day for a week allowing us to capture their daily routines and even estimate their sleep. Uniquely, they also reported how many screens they used at the same time which is not well known.”
Melanie Davies, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Leicester said behaviours like 'screen stacking' are part of big changes in lifestyle.
Referring to the most recent study, she said: “Sadly, this study reminds us that we are in danger of creating a new generation of sedentary children. Increased sedentary time is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, which is increasing in younger age groups.
“The number of young people with type 2 diabetes has gone up by 50% in just five years.”
Not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters shares a number of tips online with parents who want to help children balance their screen time and adopt a healthy digital lifestyle. Advice is broken down into age groups to ensure it is relatable to each stage of childhood. Read more about their suggestions here.