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Can computers really cause back pain for kids?

A recently published study followed 45,555 participants from the Danish National Birth Cohort. At the 11 year follow up, data showed that duration of screen time as well as physical activity were associated with spinal pain for pre-adolescents. The risk of moderate or severe spinal pain increased with increasing screen time, with a substantially increased risk in children with 6 hours or more of screen time compared to those with less than 2 hours per day.

This study replicates findings of earlier research into screen use and back pain in teens, where a large-scale study examining 31,022 adolescents found that screen use (specifically TV, computer use and gaming) was associated with back pain and headache. For every hour spent on computers, boys would increase their odds of back pain by 8%, and girls by 10%.

The importance of digital technologies has been highlighted by the covid-19 pandemic, with devices allowing students to access learning during lockdowns. Along with increased time spent on devices and indoors however, have come reports of increasing health issues. Recommendations have been made by the Pasi Sahlberg, (professor of education, UNSW) and Adrian Piccoli (director of the Gonski Institute of Education at UNSW) to balance learning tasks by, as much as possible, designing learning activities that don’t require any technology.

Alongside this, teaching children how to use screens with lower risk could prevent harm. Regarding back pain, education about posture while using digital platforms (ergonomics), along with suitable seating/furniture may lower the chance of discomfort and injury.

This includes being seated upright at a desk or table, with the screen approximately 45cm from their eyes. Feet should be flat on the floor or a support, with knees at the same height (or slightly below) the hips. Elbows are at approximately right angles, with wrists/hands supported.

From: Guidelines for Using Computers: Preventing and Managing Pain, Discomfort and Injury. Department of Labour.

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