LCQ11: Healthy use of Internet and electronic screen products
At present, quite a number of members of the public have developed a habit of prolonged use of electronic screen products for communicating with others, watching television drama series, playing electronic games or browsing social media. On the other hand, it has been pointed out in the Report of Advisory Group on Health Effects of Use of Internet and Electronic Screen Products (Report) published by the Department of Health in 2014 that the use of electronic screen products by children and adolescents may cause physical health problems such as blurred vision, overstressing of muscles, injuries and accidents, as well as psychosocial health problems such as Internet addiction and hindrance to social skill development. The Report has made a number of recommendations which include avoiding the use of electronic screen products by children under two years old as far as possible, and limiting the recreational screen time for children under 12 years old to no more than two hours a day. However, the findings of a survey conducted last year showed that about 30 per cent of young children started using electronic screen products when they were under two years old. This year, there were media reports that the degrees of myopia of a boy, who had spent two to three hours a day on tablet computers since four years old, increased by 100 degrees in each of the past three years. The aforesaid situations show that quite a number of members of the public have overlooked the recommendations made in the Report, which has aroused concerns. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of cases in each of the past three years in which members of the public got injured in accidents because they were too absorbed in using electronic screen products; if it has, of a breakdown by the age group to which such members of the public belonged;
(2) of the respective current percentages of primary and secondary school students suffering from myopia; the changes in such percentages in the past decade, and how they compare with the relevant percentages in other countries/places; whether it knows if there are scientific research findings proving that prolonged use of electronic screen products is one of the causes of the worsening of the problem of children and adolescents suffering from myopia; if there is no such research, whether the authorities will conduct the researches concerned;
(3) of the resources allocated by the Government since the publication of the Report to publicise the recommendations made in the Report;
(4) whether it has conducted tracking studies on the use of electronic screen products by children and adolescents to verify the effectiveness of the recommendations made in the Report; and
(5) of its plan to conduct extensive publicity activities to raise the awareness of parents and teachers of the need to prevent children from using electronic screen products at too early an age and for a prolonged period?
The Department of Health (DH) has been very concerned about the potential health risks posed by the increasing use of Internet and electronic screen products to children and adolescents. In December 2013, the DH convened the Advisory Group on Health Effects of Use of Internet and Electronic Screen Products (Advisory Group) to discuss on the relevant issues, and conducted a survey on the use of Internet and electronic screen products among pre-school children, primary and secondary school students, their parents and teachers. After consolidating the survey results and the suggestions from the Advisory Group, the DH published the Report of Advisory Group on Health Effects of Use of Internet and Electronic Screen Products (Report) in 2014 and provided recommendations on healthy use of Internet and electronic screen products for children and adolescents, parents and teachers. My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows.
(1) No such data is available in the DH.
(2) Myopia is one of the common refractive errors of vision. The situation of myopia among children in Hong Kong is comparable with our Asian counterparts such as Singapore and Taiwan. However, when comparing to children from some of the Western countries, Hong Kong children have higher prevalence and earlier onset of myopia. In the past 10 school years (i.e. from school year 2005/06 to school year 2014/15), the percentage of primary and secondary school students who were already wearing glasses (including glasses that correct visual problems such as myopia, astigmatism, myopia and astigmatism) when they underwent the visual acuity test at the Student Health Service (SHS) Centres of the DH are set out at Annex.
The onset and progression of myopia are largely influenced by genetic predisposition (such as ethnicity and family history of myopia), behavioural risk factors (such as poor reading habits) and environmental exposures (such as level of urbanisation). Prolonged use of computer is found to be associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which is a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from using computer for a prolonged period. Symptoms such as eyestrain, blurred and double vision, are generally caused by refractive, accommodative or vergence anomalies. The underlying pathology of CVS still needs to be further studied. Poor reading habits and inappropriate use of electronic screen products may also lead to progression of myopia.
(3) Since the release of the Report, the DH has redeployed internal resources to publicise and promulgate eye care messages and the recommendations made by the Report through various channels. Therefore, it is unable to provide the breakdown on the relevant resources allocated.
(4) The DH has not conducted additional follow-up cohort study on the use of electronic screen products in children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the DH has been keeping in view the relevant situation and has made reference to researches and reports published by relevant institutions. These include large scale surveys and research reports in Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom as well as local Thematic Household Surveys. Moreover, since 2014, the DH representatives have participated in meetings organised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the past three consecutive years to discuss on public health implications of mental and behavioural disorders associated with excessive use of Internet and electronic devices. In September 2016, the WHO and the DH co-organised a three-day Meeting on Policy and Programme Reponses to Mental and Behavioural Disorders associated with Excessive Use of the Internet and other Communication and Gaming Platforms in Hong Kong. Experts from 20 countries/areas and local government officials, as well as representatives from academic and welfare sectors were invited to review and share with the WHO advisers on the updated information and discuss the way forward to prevent and reduce public health problems associated with excessive use of Internet and electronic devices. All participants acknowledged the work done by Hong Kong in this arena and considered the Report a very useful reference. The DH will continue to actively participate in research and discussion with both local and overseas institutions and closely monitor relevant researches and development.
(5) In this digital era, children start to be exposed to Internet and electronic products at young age and continue to go online for learning, communication and entertainment as they grow up. Therefore, raising public awareness of the health risks arising from excessive and inappropriate use and the tips to use the technology in a healthy way are of utmost importance. The DH has been working through different channels to promulgate relevant information including health tips to protect eye and vision. With the release of the Report, the DH has also published a set of four modules of health tips for parents, teachers, primary and secondary school students and set up a designated web page for public to search, browse and download relevant health materials.
Besides, over the past two years, the DH has also worked with different government departments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media through diverse channels and activities, including topical seminars, radio programmes, media interviews, educational drama shows, school quiz competitions, family jogging race and road shows. to raise the awareness of parents, teachers, primary and secondary school students, social welfare sector, education sector, health sector and general public on the probable harmful effects to children and students caused by using electronic screen products as well as the recommendations on healthy use of these products and Internet. Targeting on young users, the DH produced a series of four episodes on health tips using cartoon animation. Another motion graphics was also produced for professional sector. Besides, featured articles were written in the regular newsletters to parents and schools. The Report, relevant recommendations, motion graphics and other materials have been uploaded in the designated web page and the web pages of the Family Health Service, the SHS of the DH as well as that of other collaborating institutions for public browsing and sharing.
To echo the annual International Safer Internet Day in February each year and the Ear Care Day in March each year, the SHS produced posters and souvenirs with QR code of the designated web page for display and dissemination in all SHS Centres. These materials were also mailed to the parent teacher associations of all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, public libraries, Integrated Family Service Centres, Integrated Children and Youth Service Centres and community service centres of NGOs for their reference and promotion. As mentioned above, the DH took the opportunity in working with the WHO in September 2016 to organise an open Seminar on Public Health Issues of Excessive Use of Internet, Computers, Smartphones and Similar Electronic Devices so as to learn from and discuss with experts from overseas as well as advisers of the WHO on the issue of tackling potential health risks relating to the use of Internet and electronic screen products.
The DH will continue to carry out health promotional activities as listed above and work with other institutions to further promulgate relevant health messages. Moreover, production of audio-visual health materials in the format of short video clips and infographics will be strengthened for dissemination to target groups through web pages, school newsletters, social network sites, etc.
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:47
Issued at HKT 17:47