Social media 'as dangerous as obesity' claims Hunt

Children are spending too much time online and are losing out on social skills

Jeremy Hunt thinks using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter could be as dangerous to children's health as obesity and adults smoking around them.

"When evidence shows older children are spending 20 hours every week online, I worry that we're sleepwalking into a situation where a whole generation spend huge chunks of their childhood online rather than investing in face-to-face relationships that help them grow up in a fully rounded way," Hunt told a group of teachers at a conference about mental health.

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"My instinct, for some time, has been that this is every bit as big a threat to children's mental health as things like smoking and obesity are for their physical health and now the evidence suggests that high levels of social media use are indeed associated with high scores for mental ill health."

He added that tech companies are making their products overly seductive, aiming them at younger children who are more impressionable. He now wants them to change their tact and to implement pop-ups and support for those spending too much time on social media platforms.

Hunt also wants them to stop youngsters using their networks at unsociable hours and to provide more information about cyberbullying so children can identify whether they're being bullied and can seek help when they need it.

He did accept that technology can offer great benefits to young people, giving them the platform to build careers and be successful, but he doesn't think the balance is right just yet.

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"We're storing up problems for the future if we don't see decisive and meaningful action soon," he said.

The government has pledged to inject 5 million in primary school teacher training to help them identify when their pupils may have mental health problems. The government has already financed a similar campaign for secondary school children, but said the problems start at a much earlier stage than secondary-aged children.

"Mental ill health can set in from an extremely young age, and how quickly and effectively we respond can often make a huge difference to a child's life," Hunt said. "This training will help put schools on the front foot in identifying and helping children who are struggling."

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