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Differential associations between passive and active forms of screen time and adolescent mood and anxiety disorders



To quantify the strength of association between passive and active forms of screen time and adolescent major depressive episode and anxiety disorders.


Data from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study, a representative sample of 2,320 adolescents aged 12–17 years in Ontario (mean age = 14.58, male = 50.7%) were used. Screen time was measured using adolescent self-report on time spent on screen-based activities. Past 6-month occurrence of DSM-IV-TR defined major depressive episode, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and specific phobia which were assessed using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents.


Adolescents reporting 4 or more hours of passive screen time per day, compared to those reporting less than 2 h, were three times more likely to meet the DSM-IV-TR criteria for major depressive episode [OR = 3.28(95% CI = 1.71–6.28)], social phobia [OR = 3.15 (95% CI = 1.57–6.30)] and generalized anxiety disorder [OR = 2.92 (95% CI = 1.64–5.20)]. Passive screen time continued to be significantly associated with increased odds of disorders, after adjusting for age, sex, low income, active screen time use, sleep and physical activity. A small-to-moderate attenuation of the estimated ORs was observed in the fully adjusted model. In contrast, associations between active screen time use and depression and anxiety disorders were smaller in magnitude and failed to reach statistical significance.


Passive screen time use was associated with mood and anxiety disorders, whereas active screen time was not. Further research is needed to better understand the underlying processes contributing to differential risk associated with passive versus active screen time use and adolescent mood and anxiety disorders.

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Correspondence to Soyeon Kim.

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See Table 3.

Table 3 Associations between screen time and major depressive episode, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder and specific phobia classified by parent only reports versus youth only reports

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Kim, S., Favotto, L., Halladay, J. et al. Differential associations between passive and active forms of screen time and adolescent mood and anxiety disorders. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2020).

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  • Screen time
  • Adolescent
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Physical activity
  • Sleep