Infectious Disease

Surgeon general issues advisory on risks of social media use in youth

Source/Disclosures

Disclosures:
Murthy reports no relevant financial disclosures. Healio was unable to confirm Tochi Iroku-Malize’s relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.

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Key takeaways:

  • According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of teenagers use the internet daily.
  • The advisory calls for more efforts to ensure a safer social media environment.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD MBA has issued an advisory urging for more actions to ensure safer use of social media in youth to limit potential mental health risks.

“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids,’” Murthy said in a press release. “The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”

The US surgeon general has issued an advisory urging for more actions to ensure safer use of social media in youth. Image: Adobe Stock

With adolescents being at a critical point in brain development that may increase vulnerability to harm, Murthy stressed there is a need for health care professionals, government officials and researchers to undertake efforts to better understand “the full impact of social media use” while maximizing the Benefits of youth online use.

That use has risen among adolescents over the past decade. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 97% of teenagers said they use the internet daily, up from 92% from 2014 to 2015. Additionally, 36% of teenagers said they spend too much time on social media, and 56% felt it would be hard to give up online platforms.

The increase in use coincides with the ongoing mental health crisis in youth. Murthy highlighted his concern of social media as “an important driver of that crisis — one that we must urgently address.”

According to the advisory, online platforms can lead to mental health disorders and symptoms including body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem and social comparison.

Recommendations in the advisory call for:

  • policymakers to strengthen safety standards and limit access to social media to protect youth privacy and promote digital literacy;
  • technology companies to better assess the impact of platforms on adolescents while becoming more transparent and sharing data with independent researchers;
  • parents and caregivers to teach children about responsible internet use and incorporate plans into households that emphasize less social media use;
  • youth to adopt better social media practices and limit use time; other
  • Researchers to prioritize youth mental health and social media impact research.

Several leading medical organizations and experts also voiced the significance of social media’s potential harm to youth, and the role physicians play in ensuring better mental health and safer technology habits.

“Social media can be a powerful tool for connection, but it can also lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety, particularly among adolescents,” Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, MBA, FAAFP, President of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in the release. “Family physicians are often the first stop for parents and families concerned about the physical and emotional health of young people in their lives, and we confront the mental health crisis among youth every day.”

References:

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