Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

19 August 2012

Internet and Health: The Report of the Swiss "Conseil fédéral" Fails to Mention the Risks of Excessive Use of the Internet Accessed Through Wireless Technologies

The Swiss "Conseil fédéral" has just presented a report announcing that excessive Internet use can be addictive and have physical and psychological consequences. The report was undertaken at the request of members of the Swiss Parliament, specifically to look into cyber-addiction: the health effects of excessive Internet use and particularly, on-line games. Most of the time, Internet access is enabled through wireless technologies. It would thus be useful if the authorities launched an educational campaign concerning the health risks of using these technologies, especially for children and pregnant women: sensitize parents, teachers and other professionals, including physicians, and inform young persons. 

Already in 2008, Physicians for the Environment (MfE), a group of 1,500 doctors in Switzerland, published information mentioning suspicion of the existence of a link between certain health problems and radiation emitted by wireless technology, such as mobile phones and Wi-Fi. Symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulties with concentration and others were cited. MfE suggested precautionary measures: choose computer networks connected by cable, use the fixed network and a wired telephone for long conversations, switch off or disconnect devices and electrical installations when not in use.

Following are extracts from two articles about the Report, which was presented on 15 August 2012 to the Government.

Swiss Federal Administration:
Most young persons use the Internet and play games on-line, but not in excess

Berne – In Switzerland, adolescents and young adults surf the Internet on average two hours a day. Only a minority demonstrate excessive, problematic behavior. Such are the conclusions of a report by the Conseil fédéral in response to interventions by two members of Parliament, Erika Forster-Vannini (09.3521) and Barbara Schmid-Federer (09.3579) which concern the potential dangers of the Internet and on-line games …

Most adolescents and young adults spend a reasonable amount of time on the Internet. Only 2.3% of them demonstrate problematic behavior[1].

Excessive use of the Internet often accompanies physical and psychological problems since the loss of control of time spent on line has an impact on eating, physical activity and sleep; moreover, a prolonged seated position in front of a screen can lead to muscle wasting and postural disorders. Persons surfing excessively sometimes equally tend to consume narcotics and more often suffer psychological problems such as anxiety, depression or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) compared to the rest of the population…

The Conseil fédéral entrusts the DFI (Federal Department of the Interior) with the responsibility to observe the evolution of the excessive use of the Internet and improve the scientific data on this subject through actual monitoring systems, such as the Swiss Monitorage of addictions. Moreover, specialists must be sensitized to this issue through existing platforms. Regarding prevention of excessive Internet use, the Conseil fédéral attaches particular importance to media literacy as well as intervention and early identification…

 [1] One speaks of a « problematic use of the Internet » when aspects of daily life such as sleeping, eating, working and leisure are neglected, and centers of interest focus more and more on the virtual world. The loss of notion of time spent on the Internet equally constitutes a sign of problematic use.
Tribune de Genève : Young persons surf at least two hours a day 

…only 2.3% of young persons use the Internet «excessively », notes the OFSP (Federal office for Public Health). The loss of control of time spent on line leads these dedicated surfers to neglect fundamental activities like sleep, eating, studies or leisure in order to focus solely on the virtual world …

Three types of use are particularly addictive: on-line games (role-play or action games, money games), social networks and pornographic sites. 
According to the authors of the report, the battle against excessive Internet use calls for classic measures of prevention. “Concretely, it is a matter of informing young persons of the potential dangers, to reinforce their competence in use of the Web,” explains Markus Jann, Chief of the Drug Sector at OFSP. To this end, the Federal Office of Social Insurance (OFAS) has set up the program, “Protection of Youth Confronted with the Media” which finances and supports projects and associations active in this domain. 
Screening is also a part of these measures. There is need for sensitization of parents, teachers and other professionals to the identification of youth in danger and for giving them the skills to recognize the problem … 

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