according to results from a prospective, longitudinal cohort study published in .
“Further research is needed to determine whether this association is causal,” cautioned the investigators.
Between fall 2014 (10th grade) and fall 2016 (12th grade), researchers studied 3,051 students from 10 different Los Angeles schools who were enrolled in the Happiness & Health Study and did not have significant ADHD symptoms; of these students, 2,587 adolescents (mean age 16 years, 54% girls) self-reported digital media use activities from 14 different types through surveys administered at baseline and again at 6-month, 12-month, 18-month and 24-month follow-up. Digital use activities included checking social media sites, engaging with social media content, texting, streaming music, and browsing or viewing images or videos, among others.
“Although some emerging research indicates that ADHD levels and use of certain forms of modern media may be concurrently associated, the role of modern digital media use in ADHD risk largely remains unclear from the prior literature due to limitations in exposure assessment and the application of designs incapable of supporting temporal or causal inferences,” wrote Chaelin K. Ra, MPH, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues. “The current study provides new longitudinal evidence on this topic using a 5-wave prospective design and comprehensive assessment across a wide continuum of digital media exposure, including numerous media platforms currently popular among youth.”
Students ranked their activities in a cumulative index and indicated whether they participated in those activities “0, 1-2 times per week, 1-2 times per day, or many times per day.” They also filled out the DSM-IV Current Symptoms Self-Report Form, which asked them to report whether they experienced any of nine different hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms such as “difficulty organizing and completing tasks.”
Mr. Ra and his colleagues found that 81% of adolescents reported at least one digital media activity performed at a high-frequency rate, with 54% reporting they checked social media at a high-frequency rate. There was a mean of four baseline digital media activities performed at a high-frequency rate among students surveyed. Each additional digital media activity used at a high-frequency rate carried a statistically significant association of subsequent ADHD symptoms over the follow-up period (odds ratio 1.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-1.16), which remained after adjustment for covariates including age, sex, and subsidized lunch availability tied to family income (OR 1.1; 95% CI, 1.05-1.15). The researchers noted that there was a 5% mean prevalence of subsequent ADHD symptoms in follow-up among patients who reported no baseline high-frequency rate of digital media use, compared with 10% in students indicating 7 high-frequency activities and 11% in students indicating 14 high-frequency activities.
Limitations of the study included potential inaccuracies in self-reporting ADHD symptoms as opposed to students receiving a diagnosis through a clinical interview, the possibility of the association being influenced by ADHD symptoms not detected in the study, the fact that the media use measure in the study had not been validated, and use of a targeted age range in the sample of students that excluded students without surveys who had differing demographic data from the rest of the cohort, according to the researchers.
The authors reported having no relevant financial disclosures. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
SOURCE: Ra CK et al. JAMA. 2018 Jul 17. .