Lockdown is knocking years off children's lives as many are turning into layabout insomniacs, scientists have warned.
Researchers said the impacts on youngsters' levels of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, smartphone use and sleep patterns have been "very worrying".
A University of Seville study found that students with lower levels of physical activity used their cell phones almost three times more than others.
The 20-strong sample recorded their smartphone use over seven days pre- and during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It revealed that young people used their mobile phone six hours per day on average before lockdown, increasing to over eight hours on average during the lockdown.
US professor Borja Sañudo said: “This data is very worrying if we consider that scientific evidence shows that a high number of hours sitting (more than eight hours per day) or excessive use of screen devices (three to four hours per day) is linked with a higher risk of mortality.”
A separate study carried out MRI scans on 19 adolescents who completed self-assessments of their smartphone dependence, depressive symptoms and sleep problems.
When examining the brain’s white matter it found links between smartphone addiction and “sleep problems and depressive symptoms”.
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Females were also more likely to become addicted, the study by the University of California San Francisco found.
It concluded: “Female adolescents in our study showed a higher phone dependence compared to male teens. Based on these results and prior published research, we propose a model of how smartphone dependence can be linked to aberrations (changes) in brain networks, biological sex, sleep disturbances, and depression in teens.
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“The results of our study and the proposed model (once tested in large-scale studies) can aid in the development of effective and empowering interventions to help young people regulate their behaviour with respect to modern technologies and, potentially, prevent adolescent depression and suicide.”
The warnings come as smartphone capabilities have become increasingly advanced in recent years. From playing monotone ringtones in the mid-2000s – users can now enjoy sophisticated games.
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One recent phenomena is loot boxes – a game in which punters buy a mystery sealed box for a small amount in the hope of winning big.
Despite controversy over introducing children to gambling, it has skyrocketed in popularity with a younger audience over recent months, according to Lootie.com.
Its CEO Oscar Selster said the game has “swept across” the Spanish-speaking world following its launch last March.
He added that viral TikTok videos and influencers – typically consumed by younger audiences – helped his business top one million registered users in October.
Mr Selster claimed his lootbox game is now “rapidly growing” in popularity in English speaking countries – exposing it to an even larger number of customers.
He said: “We are stunned and honoured by the massive positive response from the customer base, and we hope to continue pleasing people. We’re the best, and it’s being recognised.”
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