New animation highlights health risks of internet addiction

A new animated film from Swansea University academics aims to highlight research findings which reveal that excessive internet usage could damage immune function.

The new film is based on research from the academics from the College of Human and Health Science which found that people who have greater levels of internet addiction problems catch more colds and flu bugs than those who are less addicted to the internet and was made in order to effectively target those people more at risk.

The study was conducted by Professor Phil Reed and Rebecca Vile from Swansea University, Dr Lisa A Osborne from Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, and Dr Michela Romano and Professor Roberto Truzoli from the University of Milan, and published in the international PLOS One Journal.

Read the study ‘Problematic Internet Usage and Immune Function’

It evaluated 500 people aged 18 to 101 years old and found that those who reported problems with over-using the internet also reported having more cold and flu symptoms than those people who did not report excessive use of the internet. Around 40% of the sample reported mild or worse levels of internet addiction – a figure which did not differ between males and females.  People with greater levels of

internet addiction had around 30% more cold and flu symptoms than those with less problematic internet usage. 

Previous research has shown that people who spend more time on the internet experience greater sleep deprivation, have worse eating habits and less healthy diets, engage in less exercise, and also tend to smoke and drink alcohol more.  These behaviours can harm their immune system and increase vulnerability to diseases.

Professor Phil Reed of Swansea University said: “We found that the impact of the internet on people’s health was independent of a range of other factors, like depression, sleep deprivation, and loneliness, which are associated with high levels of internet use and also with poor health”.

The study suggested that those who are addicted to the internet may suffer from great stress when they are disconnected from the net, and this cycle of stress and relief associated with internet addiction may lead to altered levels of cortisol – a hormone that impacts immune function. 

Professor Reed added: “It may also be that those who spend a long time alone on the internet experience reduced immune function as a result of simply not having enough contact with others and their germs.”

The study also found that people reported using the internet on average for six hours a day, but a sizable minority of the sample used it for over 10 hours a day – most often connected with social media sites.  There were also differences in the way in which men and women use the internet – women using the internet for social media and shopping more than men, and men reporting more use of the internet than women for gaming and pornography.

Watch the animation