UK Chief Medical Officer to draw up first official guidance limiting social media use for young people

By Leontina Postelnicu
10:12 am

[Birmingham, UK] UK Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has asked Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, to draw up the first formal guidance limiting the amount of time young people spend on social media platforms. 

Hancock told the Observer ahead of the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham he hoped the advice would set a “norm in society”, similar to the recommended maximum alcohol consumption for adults, saying he was “very worried” about the evidence suggesting a correlation between mental health problems in young people and the use of social media.

Hancock has reportedly also asked Professor Davies to put forward guidelines on the minimum age young people should be able to use certain websites, arguing that social media companies issued guidance but did “nothing to police that”. 

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Various NHS leaders have previously criticised a lack of action from social media giants in addressing these concerns. At  the beginning of August, Facebook announced that it was introducing new functionalities to help people manage the time they spend on both Facebook and Instagram.

Professor Davies is reportedly undertaking a systematic review of international research around the impact of social media on young people's mental health. 

“This will inform a report which will be published in 2019, and will consider both positive and negative impacts of social media use, building on work done by the Children’s Commissioner to support the government’s activity in this space,” the government said earlier this year.

Study finds correlation between reduced screen time use and improved cognition

In July, the UK's Royal Society of Public Health announced that it was running a Scroll Free September campaign asking people to either stop or cut down on the amount of time they spend on their personal social media accounts. It followed a report indicating that, while social media had both positive and negative effects on the mental health and wellbeing of users, the impact of a majority of the most popular platforms was negative – with potential effects including anxiety, depression and cyberbullying. 

Meanwhile, a study published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal last week found a link between reduced recreational screen time use for children and improved cognition, although the researchers acknowledged the need for further work to understand the impact of different types of screen use.

"The greatest benefits for cognition were when children met the screen time plus sleep time recommendations or the screen time recommendations alone. But, the more recommendations a child met, the more positive their global cognition,” said Dr. Jeremy Walsh, Lead Author of the study. 

Twitter: @1Leontina
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