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Income affects how adolescents spend time

by Kelly Stone

Boy with tv remoteResearch from UniSA’s Health and Use of Time Group has found that children from higher income families spend more time playing sports, doing homework and playing music than those from lower income families.

Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the research suggests differences in the way time is spent could be used to develop interventions to address health inequalities for children from lower socioeconomic families.

Researchers used a sample of 2071 children aged nine to 16, from across Australia’s metropolitan and regional areas, to study how time use varies with household income.

Katia Ferrar.Lead author PhD candidate Katia Ferrar (pictured), says the survey showed higher socioeconomic status (SES) children spent significantly more time playing sport, including team sports, and in cognitively demanding behaviours such as school routine, doing homework, and playing music.

“Higher SES children may be getting the health benefits of being more active physically and mentally. Not only are they getting the physical health benefits, they are doing more homework and playing music which increases cognitive resources, which may help to delay conditions such as Alzheimers later in life,” she says.

She says that conversely, low income participants spent significantly more time watching television and playing video games. On average, low income children spent an extra 42 minutes a day staring at a screen.

“Increased screen time has associated health effects of poor diet patterns and increased chance of obesity, while video games have been associated with increased aggressive behaviours,” Ferrar says.

Ferrar says that given behaviours formed in childhood normally persist into adulthood, the research demonstrates the need for interventions to improve health outcomes for lower SES children. She hopes her work will enable policy makers and health professionals to intervene sooner, rather than later.

“It is essential to improve the health of our young people – it’s an obligation,” she says.

“There are things that can be done at the school, community and policy level.

“Such interventions might include subsidising sporting club memberships or music lessons, and transport barriers may be addressed by increased provision of extra-curricular activities on school sites.”

Co-authors on the study were Professor Tim Olds, Dr Carol Maher and Sjaan Gomersall.

The study was supported by the Department of Health and Ageing; Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Australian Food and Grocery Council; and SA Health.