As screens are increasingly integrated into every facet of modern life, there is growing concern over the potential effects of high screen time. Previous studies have largely utilized self-report data on mood and behavioral aspects of screen time, and no molecular theory has yet been developed. In this study, we explored the fecal microbiome and metabolome of a diverse group of 60 college students, classified by high (≥ 75 min/day) or low (0–75 min/day) self-reported screen time using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, targeted liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and targeted detection of short-chain fatty acids using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Several key taxa and metabolites were significantly altered between groups and found to be highly co-occurrent. Results of pathway and enzyme enrichment analyses were synthesized to articulate an integrated hypothesis indicating widespread mitochondrial dysfunction and aberrant amino acid metabolism. High screen time was also predicted to be significantly associated with type I diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and various manifestations of inflammatory bowel. This is the first-ever study to report the effects of high screen time at the molecular level, and these results provide a data-driven hypothesis for future experimental research.
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