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Roundup: Social Media and Teen Health; New Risk for ADHD Medication; Air Pollution as Harmful as Cigarettes

Heavy Social Media Use Hurts Teen’s Mental Health

A new study suggests social media use may harm the mental health of teenagers by increasing their exposure to bullying. It can also reduce their sleep and exercise time.

The research [1] was published recently in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Scientists conducted multiple interviews with almost 10,000 teenagers in England between the ages of 13 and 16.

The teens reported the frequency they used social media – sites like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and Snapchat. More than three times daily was considered very frequent.

Researchers found that with both boys and girls very frequent social media use was associated with greater psychological distress, but the stress impacted girls more.

“Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly the negative experience of cyber-bullying,” said the study’s co-author, Russell Viner of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

The bottom line is too much social media can not only add to a teen’s stress but also get in the way of other activities that have a positive impact on mental health, including sleep and exercise.

Common ADHD Medication May Affect Brain Development

Treatment with Ritalin and other brands of methylphenidate [2] may affect the development of the brain’s signal-carrying white matter in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study [3] in the journal Radiology.

Results of the study conducted in boys and men with ADHD [4] show that four months of treatment with methylphenidate affected specific tracts in brain white matter in boys but not in their adult counterparts. Researchers found no changes in the brains of boys who received placebo.

“The results show that ADHD medications can have different effects on the development of brain structure in children versus adults,” said principal investigator Liesbeth Reneman, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The findings, she said, point to the need for more research.

“We do not yet know whether these effects are reversible or not and whether they are related to functional or behavioral changes over a longer period of time,” Dr. Reneman said.

Dr. Reneman noted that the findings are relevant to an increasing group of children who are being treated with stimulants but who do not suffer from ADHD. Such stimulants may be used, for example, to increase school performance or because of misdiagnosis.

“What our data already underscore is that the use of ADHD medications in children must be carefully considered until more is known about the long-term consequences of prescribing methylphenidate at a young age,” Dr. Reneman said. “The drug should only be prescribed to children who actually have ADHD and are significantly affected by it.”

Air Pollution May Be as Harmful to Your Lungs as Smoking Cigarettes

Emphysema is considered a smoker’s disease. But it turns out, exposure to air pollution may lead to the same changes in the lung that give rise to emphysema.

A new study [5] published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that long-term exposure to slightly elevated levels of air pollution can be linked to accelerated development of lung damage, even among people who have never smoked.

Researchers found that people in the study who were exposed for years to higher-than-average concentrations of ground-level ozone developed changes to their lungs similar to those seen in smokers.

“We found that an increase of about three parts per billion [of ground-level ozone] outside your home was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years,” says one study author, Joel Kaufman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington.

The study involved nearly 7,000 adults living in six U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Paul, Minn., New York City and Winston-Salem, N.C. Generally, people in the study were exposed to annual average concentrations of between 10 and 25 parts per billion of ground-level ozone outside their homes. But there’s no reason to believe that the pockets of elevated ozone exposure are limited to those cities.

Chronic respiratory disease (which includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema) is a leading cause of death in the U.S. The World Health Organization estimates that each year 7 million premature deaths around the world are linked to air pollution.