The pediatrician faces the challenge of technology and its impact on child and adolescent health

iSanidad Yearbook 2023
Dr. Luis Carlos Blesa Baviera, President of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP).
In recent years, and more significantly, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen an alarming deterioration in the mental health of children and adolescents in Spain. Before the epidemic, it was already estimated that approximately 10% of children and 20% of adolescents suffered from mental disorders, the consequences of which can last a lifetime. Currently, pediatricians are seeing increasing cases of anxiety, depressive symptoms, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, as well as self-harm and suicidal behavior among adolescents.

There is no single cause for this multifaceted phenomenon. However, we were able to confirm how the interruption of routines and social restrictions during the pandemic led to excessive use of technologies, changes in sleep patterns, social isolation and limitation of physical activity, among other harmful effects that continue to the present. Society is watching these changes in youth behavior with concern, and pediatricians share concerns about the distress these situations cause to minors and their families, and the short-, medium-, and long-term effects on child and youth health. .

The Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) is committed to ensuring the health of children and adolescents in the fight against diseases, but also improving their well-being. To address this challenge, AEP formed a Health Promotion Committee a few years ago to provide improved recommendations to reduce the impact of “”.Major epidemics” can affect childhood obesity, sedentary lifestyle or mental disorders.

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Gradually, evidence is emerging that these conditions share common triggering and interdependent factors. Growing childhood obesity in Spain, with one in three children being overweight or obese, associated with other facts that cause an obese environment, was identified as an important risk factor due to its relationship with the inappropriate use of screens, sitting. Lifestyle and less conscious consumption of unhealthy foods. Undoubtedly, the most important change in the life habits of children and adolescents in recent years is a drastic decrease in physical activity, replaced by more sedentary time, again related to technologies and sociocultural factors.

Only 36% of children and adolescents in Spain adhere to the WHO recommendation of no more than two hours a day in front of screens.

A study conducted in Barcelona found that 45% of young people spend more time browsing their phones than interacting with friends, and 41% neglect their responsibilities to connect with their devices. Considering that only 36% of children and adolescents in Spain comply with the WHO recommendation of no more than two hours a day in front of screens, it is clear that we are facing a significant proportion of the problem.

In response to this situation, AEP launched a training/outreach program in 2022 targeting families and pediatricians. This project is implemented in the Family Digital Project, a tool designed to promote the healthy use of technology in families as a preventive strategy against the physical, mental and social risks associated with its excessive use. The program provides recommendations based on scientific evidence tailored to the needs of each home and the age of the minor.

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One of the main objectives of the Digital Family Project is to provide a practical tool for pediatricians.

With this initiative, AEP seeks to position itself at the forefront of the concept of digital health. If technologies are already an intrinsic part of our lives and research on their inappropriate use reveals that children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable due to their stage of development, pediatricians have the responsibility to face this new challenge in child and adolescent health. Information in the face of conflicting information.

But educating digitally and reducing the risks of inappropriate use of technology requires, above all, a deeper reflection on the role families want screens to play in their homes. This includes leading as a mirror and role model for their offspring to look up to. Also, consensus is needed among not only healthcare but also academic institutions to make decisions that protect the most vulnerable and to foster alliances that promote the positive use of technology.

The Spanish Pediatric Association actively collaborates with the Spanish Data Protection Agency and other organizations in this important task. The coalition recently worked on the #CambiaElPlan citizen awareness campaign, which aims to improve the digital health of minors by raising awareness among their parents.

It is time to recognize the urgency to address the silent but significant impact of this issue on the physical, mental and social health of our youth and work together to create a digital environment that promotes their well-being and healthy development.

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