More frequent digital media use may be associated with a subsequent increase in symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to new research.
These findings emerged from a study of adolescents aged 15 to 16 years at 10 high schools in Los Angeles County, California. For the study, Adam Leventhal, PhD, of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and colleagues administered surveys to students from their 10th-grade year (September 2014) until their 12th-grade year (December 2016).
A total of 3051 (74%) of 4100 eligible 10th-grade students completed surveys at baseline. Of all eligible students, 2587 (63%) did not demonstrate significant symptoms of ADHD at baseline. Additional follow-up surveys were administered at months 6, 12, 18, and 24.
In each survey, students self-reported their daily frequency of use of 14 different modern digital media activities throughout the preceding week. Survey results were summed in a cumulative index.
The primary outcomes of the study were:
- Self-rated frequency of 18 ADHD symptoms in the 6 months prior to the survey.
- Rated as never/rare, sometimes, often, very often.
- Total numbers of 9 inattentive symptoms and 9 hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
- Rated as often or very often.
Students who reported experiencing 6 or more symptoms often or very often in either category were deemed ADHD-symptom positive.
The mean number of baseline digital activities used among students was 3.62, with social media being the most common activity. Of the students without significant baseline ADHD symptoms, 1398 (54.1%) students reported a high frequency of social media use at baseline.
Ultimately, study findings indicated that high-frequency engagement in each additional digital media activity was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of having ADHD symptoms at each follow-up period (odds ratio [OR] 1.11), even after adjustment for covariates (OR 1.10).
The mean rates of ADHD symptoms across follow-up periods among students with no high-frequency media use at baseline (n = 495), high-frequency use of 7 activities (n = 114), or high-frequency use of 14 activities (n = 51) were 4.6%, 9.5%, and 10.5%, respectively.
“Among adolescents followed up over 2 years, there was a statistically significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD,” the researchers concluded. “Further research is needed to determine whether this association is causal.”
Ra CK, Cho J, Stone MD, et al. Association of digital media use with subsequent symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents. JAMA. 2018;320(3):255-263. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8931