Press release

Sedentary lifestyles and too much screen time affect children’s wellbeing

Too much time in front of screens combined with a sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on our children’s wellbeing.

Classroom stars
Classroom stars

Too much time in front of screens – including TV and computer games – combined with a sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on our children’s wellbeing and increasing their anxiety, according to a new Public Health England briefing paper.

The paper, entitled ‘How healthy behaviour supports children’s wellbeing’, identifies a link between children’s screen time and lower levels of wellbeing, showing that:

  • higher levels of TV viewing are having a negative effect on children’s wellbeing, including lower self-worth, lower self-esteem and lower levels of self-reported happiness

  • children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression

The briefing paper is released as a new Change4Life campaign encourages families to use the back to school period to adopt healthier behaviours – one of which is reducing children’s screen time. ‘Smart Restart’ outlines 5 everyday changes for families to focus on for the next 6 weeks to half term, including reducing screen time, eating healthier lunches and being more active.

YouTube Change4Life features

The briefing reveals that children doing more physical activity are more likely to concentrate better in school, enjoy good relationships with classmates, and display lower levels of worry, anxiety and depression. However:

  • over 70% of young people in the UK do not undertake the recommended level of one hour’s physical activity each day

  • just over 20% of UK children engage in more than an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, placing the UK 10th out of 29 OECD countries

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s Director of Health and Wellbeing said:

There are many complex factors that affect a child’s wellbeing such as the wider environment they live in and their social, financial and family circumstances, but there are also some very simple things we can all do every day with our children to help improve their health and wellbeing.

‘Smart Restart’ provides families with the inspiration and tools to do this. Our goal is to encourage families across England to sign up to Change4Life to make a healthy change to their new term-time routines, which will hopefully then become part of their everyday lives.

Lil Caprani, Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns, The Children’s Society said:

When we asked children about their wellbeing as part of our Good Childhood Report, we found a strong association with being active and being happy. Things like cycling, swimming or playing football all had a clear relationship, but simple things like just going for walks were associated with higher wellbeing.


Notes to editors

  1. The 5 ‘Smart Restart’ changes families can choose from are: * stretch your legs – encouraging families to swap car or bus journeys for walking, scooting or cycling * 10-minute moves – incorporating fun ten minute activities into lives to help build to the goal of at least 60 active minutes a day * screen-time switch – encouraging limiting screen time and swapping time in front of the TV, tablet or computer for something active * beat the treats – encouraging families to swap unhealthy treats for healthy alternatives * super lunches – help keep children going through the school day with ideas for quick and tasty lunches

  2. Make a ‘Smart Restart’ with Change4Life this new school term.

  3. Download the ‘Smart Restart’ adverts

  4. How healthy behaviour supports children’s wellbeing’ draws on a range of new research, including a report published by NatCen Social Research (funded by the Department of Health) and wider evidence from international academic literature relating to children’s health behaviours and their wellbeing. This report will be available on the NatCen website on Wednesday 28 August.

  5. Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.

Public Health England press office

Published 28 August 2013
Last updated 30 August 2013 + show all updates
  1. Added link to Change4Life videos
  2. First published.