The study surveyed over 1,400 participants aged 11 and 12. Participants were asked to fill out daily diaries detailing their use of time in five-minute increments across two 24-hour periods. This included looking at 260 different daily activities, including time spent showering and brushing teeth. The study looked at three specific outcome measures - overall quality of life, psychological health and physical health.
Four distinct time-use clusters emerged, which the team called:
- Studious Actives (highest school-related time; low screen time);
- Techno Actives (highest physical activity; lowest school-related time);
- Stay-home Screenies (highest screen time; mainly stay at home), and
- Potterers (low physical activity; moderate screen time).
Compared to the healthiest Studious Actives, the Potterers had the poorest scores across all three measures of health-related quality of life. This finding suggests that promoting healthy time-use patterns at this age may promote good health through both adolescence and later life.
Lifestyle is a major determinant of adult health, said the study’s lead author, Dr Monica Wong from MCRI.
“We know that both lifestyle and health trajectories are well established by adolescence and they have lifetime consequences. However, until now we didn’t know whether overall time-use patterns are already associated with health-related quality of life as young as age 11-12 years,” Dr Wong said.
The new results, published in The American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that the Studious Actives and Techno Actives had similar quality of life. The Stay-home Screenies were slightly lower, but still relatively close to the first two categories. Potterers’ results suggested the lowest quality of life by a substantial amount.
Some children in the Potterers category reported that they would regularly play video games for eight hours straight and, disturbingly, couldn’t recall if they had eaten lunch or gone to the toilet during that period.
Senior author Prof Melissa Wake said, “The Potterers’ result raises the question as to whether they play video games because they’re less happy or the reverse – do the excessive videos actually decrease their quality of life?”
This study is one of the early results to be released as part of a landmark study of 4,000 children called Child Health Checkpoint. A ‘pop-up’ centre travelled to 12 cities around Australia, aiming to provide the first national statistics on heart, lung and other aspects of health for 11-12 year old Australian children.
The data collected will provide vital information that could shed light on the causes of Australia’s biggest killers - cardiovascular and respiratory diseases - and other health issues facing Australians today.
The next step of this study is to gather data from a slightly older age group to determine if the quality of life gap widens, particularly between the first three groups. Study co-author at the University of South Australia, Prof Tim Olds said, “The results for the first three categories were quite similar. We’re interested to find out how children’s quality of life will be impacted by their use of time as they move into their teens and start to make more independent choices.”
This will help to better identify the risks children face as they get older and help parents guide their kids on how to spend their time. Establishing healthy lifestyles by adolescence is thought to be key to future adult health.