How internet use affects your family’s health
Too much of a good thing, may not kill you, but it could make you sick. This is according to a study of 500 men and woman between the ages of 18 and 100, by Swansea and Milan Universities, which found that spending in excess of four hours a day online, for personal use, could lead to a 30% increase in the risk of colds and flu.
Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says South Africa’s 24,9m internet users should take note. “According to We are Social, South Africans already spend an average of five hours a day online using multiple devices,” explains van Aswegen. “We then spend about another three hours on average using our cellphones, this puts the average South African’s immunity at even greater risk.”
According to van Aswegen it is not only the excess screen time impacting badly on our health, but the bad habits often accompanying this. Things such as a lack of sleep, eating too much junk food, and too little exercise are all factors that make those of us who love being plugged in more likely to be sick than those who are not so concerned about being connected 24/7.
The study found that, when an internet addict experiences connectivity issues stress levels go through the roof, only to experience a sense of intense relief when connectivity is restored. This cycle of stress and relief may lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands and plays an important role in regulating the immune system,” explains van Aswegen. “When an internet addict experiences a lot of stress cortisol levels remain elevated. This can lead to more regular infections, allergies, and even autoimmune diseases.”
Based on a study by the Department of Adult Psychiatry in Poland Medical University, one in every four children is suffering from internet addiction. These children could experience withdrawal symptoms similar to that of substance abusers, indicating the level of danger associated with excessive internet use amongst young children.
With internet usage almost mandatory at school parents need to act and put in place clear boundaries when it comes to internet usage at home. Van Aswegen recommends that parents review their approach when it comes to educating their children about safe and responsible internet use, especially during the early formative years.
Screen times for babies and toddlers younger than two should really be non-existent, while those aged between two and five should have no more than an hour a day of screen time. Screen time for children between 5 and 18 can be increased to two hours a day.
These are just rough guidelines, with the recommended time spent online differing from person to person. Van Aswegen says that unhealthy internet use in your child may be signalled by factors such as your child opting to interact online instead of with friends and family in person. A child with a possible internet addiction will also neglect important tasks such as schoolwork or home chores in favour of surfing the net.
Whether you notice these signs in your child or yourself, they may be indicative of a problem and could mean that you need to seriously re-evaluate the internet usage policy in your home.