Surgeon General Calls for Warning Labels on Social Media Sites

The U.S. Surgeon General announced Monday that he will push for warning labels on all social media platforms, stating that they may harm teens’ mental health.

“The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor,” Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote in an essay published Monday in the New York Times. “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.”

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents,” he added.

Still, such warning labels require Congressional approval, and no legislation on the issue has yet been introduced in either chamber.

In his essay, Murthy asserted that the dangers of social media are as significant as those seen with road accidents or contaminated food.

“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food?” Murthy wrote. “These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability.”

Meanwhile, teens are spending more time than ever on social media.

A Gallup survey released last fall found that teens are logging in an average of 4.8 hours per day on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

If history is any example, past warning labels can alter public behavior. After a landmark report on the dangers of smoking was released by the Surgeon General in 1965, Congress voted to require all cigarette packaging carry a warning that using the products “may be hazardous to your health.”

When the warning labels first appeared, around 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked every day; that portion had dropped to 11.5 percent by 2021, the Times reported.

This is not the first time Murthy has warned of the dangers of social media: In May 2023, he issued an advisory that stated, “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

In that advisory, Murthy acknowledged that research suggests the platforms offer both risks and benefits, providing community for young people who might otherwise feel marginalized.

Still, it urged parents to limit their children’s social media use, and to keep meals free of devices.

With his new call for a warning label, Murthy is making an even more urgent plea for the mental health of America’s young people.

“One of the most important lessons I learned in medical school was that in an emergency, you don’t have the luxury to wait for perfect information,” he wrote. “You assess the available facts, you use your best judgment and you act quickly.”

“There is no seatbelt for parents to click, no helmet to snap in place, no assurance that trusted experts have investigated and ensured that these platforms are safe for kids,” Murthy wrote. “There are just parents and their children, trying to figure it out on their own, pitted against some of the best product engineers and most well-resourced companies in the world.”

More information

Yale Medicine has more on social media and teens.

SOURCE: New York Times

Source: HealthDay

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