Physical activity, leisure-time screen use and depression among children and young adolescents

J Sci Med Sport. 2014 Mar;17(2):183-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.012. Epub 2013 May 3.


Objectives: Adolescent mental disorders remain a relatively neglected area of research, despite evidence that these conditions affect youth disproportionately. We examined associations between physical activity, leisure-time screen use and depressive symptoms among Australian children and adolescents.

Design: Large cross-sectional observational study.

Methods: Self-reported physical activity and leisure-time screen behaviours, and depressive symptoms using the Short Mood and Feeling Questionnaire were assessed in 8256 students aged 10-16 years (mean age=11.5 years, SD=0.8).

Results: Thirty three percent of the sample reported moderate to high depressive symptoms, with rates higher among females (OR=1.18; 95% CI: 1.02, 1.36; p=0.001). Increased opportunities to be active at school outside class (OR=0.70; 0.58, 0.85; p<0.001), being active in physical education classes (OR=0.77; 0.69, 0.86; p<0.001), greater involvement in sports teams at school (OR=0.77; 0.67, 0.88; p<0.001) and outside of school (OR=0.84; 0.73, 0.96; p=0.01) were all independently associated with lower odds for depressive symptoms. Meeting recommended guidelines for physical activity (OR=0.62; 0.44, 0.88; p=0.007) and, for 12-14 year olds, leisure-time screen use (OR=0.77; 0.59, 0.99; p=0.04) were also independently associated with lower odds for depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Higher levels of physical activity among children and young adolescents, and lower levels of leisure-time screen use among young adolescents, are associated with lower depressive symptoms. Longitudinal studies are needed to understand the causal relationships between these variables.

Keywords: Adolescents; Children; Depression; Exercise; Physical fitness; Television.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Computers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Television / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors
  • Video Games / statistics & numerical data*