Monday 24 October 2016

The 7 ways your smartphone is making you ill

As a study finds that smartphones are causing back ailments, here are some of the health risks caused by your mobile

Olivia Goldhill

Published 13/04/2015 | 13:49

If you’re looking at your phone then you’re more likely to walk into a lamppost, trip over your feet or have a more serious accident.
If you’re looking at your phone then you’re more likely to walk into a lamppost, trip over your feet or have a more serious accident.

The number of hours spent peering and jabbing at our smartphones isn’t just annoying, but potentially dangerous. As we become increasingly reliant on smartphones, picking them up every other minute to check the latest updates, we’re susceptible to smartphone health hazards.

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According to the British Chiropractic Association, our obsession with smartphones has led to a rise in the number of young people with back problems, as the amount of time spent leaning over small phone screens can put spinal discs under pressure. Thanks to our technological lifestyle, 45 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds suffer from back pain – a 60 per cent rise from last year.

And aching backs aren’t the only unhealthy consequences of your mobile. Here’s why smartphones are bad for your physical, mental and emotional health.



If you’re looking at your phone then you’re more likely to walk into a lamppost, trip over your feet or have a more serious accident. Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that drivers who are listening to someone talk on their mobile have 37 per cent reduced brain activity. Meanwhile, a University of Washington study found that texting pedestrians were four times more likely to ignore the lights or forget to look for traffic before crossing.


Instead of making us more connected, the potential for incessant smartphone communication can make us feel more isolated. Young people, who spend 11 hours looking at their screens every day, expect constant updates from their friends, and a lull in messages can lead to anxiety. “There’s the terrible feeling that the person is ignoring you,” says Dr Richard Graham, a psychologist specialising in technology addiction at Nightingale hospital. “Young people have to manage feeling excluded by people that are very important to them.”


Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Jonathan Dearing, spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, says that the technology revolution has led to reduced physical activity and obesity, which is the fourth biggest cause of death worldwide. "If someone is on the floor above you at work, rather than going to see them you would send an email. And you would phone up a friend rather than travelling to meet them,” he says. “Inactivity leads to obesity, and it means risk of cardiovascular disease is greatly increased. Pretty much every pathology – such as breast cancer, prostate cancer or bowel cancer – you are both more likely to get it and less likely to recover from it if you are inactive.”


Child psychotherapist Julie Lynn Evans says that she dealt with one or two attempted suicides a year in the 1990s, but now faces up to four a month. Lynn Evans blames smartphones for this increase, saying that it allows teenagers to carry a world of cyber bullying with them wherever they go. “There are difficult chat rooms, self-harming websites, anorexia websites, pornography, and a whole invisible world of dark places. In real life, we travel with our children. When they are connected via their smartphone to the web, they usually travel alone,” she says.


More than 60 per cent of 18- to 29-year-old smartphone users take their phones to bed, but studies have found that just two hours exposure to brightly lit screens can supress melatonin and lead to sleeping troubles. And Professor Kevin Morgan, Director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough University, says that late-night intellectual stimulation from our phones makes it more difficult to relax. “Why are you looking at a screen before you go to bed? It could be because you are working. Or a child might be playing an exciting game,” he says. “Looking at screens engages you in intellectual activity in a way that is not at all like reading a book. It puts you in a state of alertness which is the last thing you want to be before going to bed."


Social skills have also been depleted thanks to the amount of time we focus on our smartphone, instead of those around us. This is particularly obvious among children, who are increasingly ignored by smartphone-obsessed parents. “Children learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions,” says Dr Jenny Radesky, a paediatrician specialising in child development, “If that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

Attention span

You’re much less likely to finish reading this article if you’re on a mobile, when you can click to see a heartbreaking video of a child with his pet here or your friends’ photos here. Research has found that smartphones greatly reduce our attention spans and make us far less effective at completing tasks, especially difficult and detailed tasks. Even the mere presence of a smartphone is distracting enough to ruin our mental concentration.

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