To examine the relationship between different Internet-use intensities and adolescent mental and somatic health.
Data were drawn from the 2002 Swiss Multicenter Adolescent Survey on Health, a nationally representative survey of adolescents aged 16 to 20 years in post-mandatory school. From a self-administered anonymous questionnaire, 3906 adolescent boys and 3305 girls were categorized into 4 groups according to their intensity of Internet use: heavy Internet users (HIUs; >2 hours/day), regular Internet users (RIUs; several days per week and ≤2 hours/day), occasional users (≤1 hour/week), and non-Internet users (NIUs; no use in the previous month). Health factors examined were perceived health, depression, overweight, headaches and back pain, and insufficient sleep.
In controlled multivariate analysis, using RIUs as a reference, HIUs of both genders were more likely to report higher depressive scores, whereas only male users were found at increased risk of overweight and female users at increased risk of insufficient sleep. Male NIUs and female NIUs and occasional users also were found at increased risk of higher depressive scores. Back-pain complaints were found predominantly among male NIUs.
Our study provides evidence of a U-shaped relationship between intensity of Internet use and poorer mental health of adolescents. In addition, HIUs were confirmed at increased risk for somatic health problems. Thus, health professionals should be on the alert when caring for adolescents who report either heavy Internet use or very little/none. Also, they should consider regular Internet use as a normative behavior without major health consequence.