Few studies have explored the potential interrelated associations of screen time and physical activity with mental health in youth, particularly using objective methods. We examined cross-sectional associations of these variables among Icelandic adolescents, using objective and subjective measurements of physical activity.
Data were collected in the spring of 2015 from 315 tenth grade students (mean age 15.8 years) in six elementary schools in metropolitan Reykjavík, Iceland. Participants reported, via questionnaire, on demographics, weekly frequency of vigorous physical activity, daily hours of screen time and mental health status (symptoms of depression, anxiety and somatic complaints, self-esteem and life satisfaction). Total physical activity was measured over one week with wrist-worn accelerometers. Body composition was determined by DXA-scanning. Poisson regression analysis was used to explore independent and interactive associations of screen time and physical activity with mental health variables, adjusting for gender, body fat percentage and maternal education.
Less screen time (below the group median of 5.3 h/day) and more frequent vigorous physical activity (=4x/week) were each associated with reporting fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and life dissatisfaction. No significant associations were observed between objectively measured physical activity and mental health outcomes. Interactive regression analysis showed that the group reporting both less screen time and more frequent vigorous physical activity had the lowest risk of reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and life dissatisfaction.
Reports of less screen time and more frequent vigorous physical activity were associated with lower risk of reporting mental health problems among Icelandic adolescents. Those who reported a combination of engaging in less screen time and more frequent vigorous physical activity had the lowest risk, suggesting a synergistic relationship between the two behaviors on mental health outcomes. Our results support guiding youth towards more active and less sedentary/screen-based lifestyle.