Teenagers in Australia like their electronic devices. Teens in the United States do, too. A recent survey of teen activities in school and at home indicates Australian teenagers are trading the recommended one hour per day of physical activity for more screen time and it could be jeopardizing their long-term health. Teens in the US could be doing the same thing.

The Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia released the findings of a joint study they conducted recently. The study compared the results of a survey conducted in 2009 and 2010 with the results of the same survey conducted in 2012 and 2013. Their findings include:

Body mass index (BMI) indicating a child was overweight or obese:

  • 23% in both the 2009/10 and 2012/13 surveys
  • 25% of boys in 2012/13
  • 20% of girls in 2012/13

Spent 60 or more minutes in physical activity every day:

  • 15% in 2009/10
  • 18% in 2012/13

Spent two or more hours using electronic media on a school day:

  • 71% in 2009/10
  • 77% in 2012/13

Spent two or more hours using electronic media on a weekend day:

  • 83% in 2009/10
  • 89% in 2012/13

As for electronic devices in the home in 2012/13:

  • 58% reported at least three TVs in the home
  • 40% had a TV in their bedroom
  • 67% had a computer in their bedroom
  • 40% had a portable video player in the bedroom
  • 30% of parents restricted their teenager’s TV viewing time

Craig Sinclair, chairman for the Cancer Council Australia’s Public Health Committee, fears the increased screen time will undermine any benefit gained from physical activity, the level of which he describes as critically low. As a father himself, he knows first-hand “how fixated kids can be with their electronic devices” but calls on parents to get kids moving and to enhance their child’s physical activities with healthier diets.

Mary Barry, CEO of the National Heart Foundation, considers “overweight and obesity among young people (to be) a significant public health issue in Australia.” She said these children are at increased risk for being overweight in adulthood, which would put them at increased risk for developing chronic health conditions such as heart disease.  She described the escalating use of electronic devices as a modern-day problem emerging as a new frontier in the fight against physical inactivity and obesity.

In the US, a project called Bridging the Gap focuses on how school policies and practices can be improved so students attending the nation’s middle and high schools get more physical activity during the course of a school day. It indicates a wide range of physical activities, sports participation, health education programs, and obesity levels among the nation’s schools, with differences being most striking according to the socio-economic status of the students, as well as racial blend and location of the school itself.

Although both studies address the crisis of obesity and lack of physical activity in older children, the Bridging the Gap project does not address American children’s home life or their daily screen time as the Australian study does.


  1. "Increase in teenagers’ screen use a new threat to long-term health." Cancer Council Australia. Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
  2. Johnston, Lloyd D., Patrick M. O'Malley, Yvonne Terry-McElrath, and Natalie Colabianchi. "School Policies and Practices to Improve Health and Prevent Obesity: National Secondary School Survey Results: School Years 2006–07 through 2009–10. Volume 2." Bridging the Gap. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, July 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.


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