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Teenagers who sit for hours a day are more likely to experience depression at the age of 18

Children who sit for hours a day are more likely to experience depression at the age of 18, a study has warned.

Researchers followed activity levels of 4,200 young people between 12 and 16 years old using activity trackers. Then they questioned them about their mental health in adolescence.

For every 60 minutes a child spent on the couch each day, their depressive symptoms increased by 10 percent in 18.

Those with a consistently large amount of time spent sitting down had 28.2 percent higher depression scores at the age of 18.

Light activity seemed to compensate for the effects – even more reason to encourage children to do the chores.

For every 60 minutes that a child spent between 12 and 16 a day on the couch, their depressive symptoms increased by 10 percent in 18, a study found

Study leader Aaron Kandola, a PhD student at University College London (UCL), said: “Our findings show that young people who are inactive for much of the day during adolescence are at greater risk at the age of 18.

“We discovered that it is not only more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health, but any kind of physical activity that can shorten the time we sit is probably beneficial.

“We need to encourage people of all ages to exercise more and sit less because it is good for our physical and mental health.”

The research team used data from more than 4,257 adolescents and published their findings in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

The children have participated from birth into research as part of the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol.

Accelerometers were used to monitor their movement for at least 10 hours for at least three days, at the age of 12, 14 and 16.

The accelerometers reported whether the child was engaged in light activity, such as walking or hobbies such as playing an instrument, moderate to physical activity – such as running or cycling, or when seated.

The use of accelerometers provided more reliable data than previous studies, where people were dependent on self-reporting of their activity.

Depression was assessed with a questionnaire instead of with the help of a clinical diagnosis. Participants were asked about symptoms such as bad mood, loss of pleasure and poor concentration.

A score was calculated on a scale of *.

Total physical activity in the group decreased between 12 and 16 years. Light activity decreased from an average of five hours, 26 minutes to four hours, five minutes.


Signs of depression in children can be:

  • Long-term sadness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia or too much sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • indecision
  • Lack of trust
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Numb for emotions
  • Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
  • Self-damaging

Some also have physical symptoms such as headache or abdominal pain.

Older children can abuse alcohol or drugs.

Depression in children can occur as a result of family problems, bullying, other psychological problems or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

It can be triggered by one event, such as a mourning or an accumulation of things.

If you suspect your child is depressed, try to talk to him about how he feels.

Let them know that you are worried and that you are there when they need you.

If they don’t want to talk to you, encourage them to contact another family member, teacher, or family friend.

If this does not help, contact your doctor, who may refer your child to a mental health specialist.

Source: NHS

There was an increase in sedentary behavior from an average of seven hours and 10 minutes to eight hours and 43 minutes.

The researchers discovered that every 60 minutes of sedentary behavior per day at the age of 12, 14 and 16 was linked to an increase in depression score of 11.1 percent, eight percent or 10.5 percent, respectively, at the age of 18.

Those with consistently high amounts of time spent on all three ages had 28.2 percent higher depression scores at the age of 18.

The findings showed that an additional 60 minutes of light activity – such as walking or doing odd jobs – reduced depressive symptoms by 18 percent daily at the age of 18.

For 12, 14 and 16 years, depression scores decreased at the age of 18 by 9.6 percent, 7.8 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively.

The team was responsible for potentially confusing factors such as socio-economic status, parental history of mental health and duration of wearing the accelerometer.

The researchers found some evidence that moderate to vigorous activity reduced depressive symptoms in old age.

However, they warned that their data was weaker due to the low activity levels of such intensity in the group, on average about 20 minutes a day.

They said their findings do not make clear whether moderate to vigorous activity is less beneficial than light activity.

Mr Kandola said: ‘It is worrying that the amount of time that young people spend inactive has steadily increased for years, but there is a surprising lack of high-quality research into how this can affect mental health.

“The number of young people with depression also seems to be growing and our study suggests that these two trends may be related.”

Study senior author Dr. Joseph Hayes, of UCL and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, added: “Many initiatives promote movement among young people, but our findings suggest that light activity should also receive more attention.

‘Light activity can be particularly useful because it does not take a lot of effort and it is easy to fit into the daily routine of most young people.

‘Schools could integrate light activity into the days of their students, such as standing or active lessons.

“Small changes in our environment can make it easier for us all to be a little less seated.”