If you’ve ever inadvertently left your smartphone at home, the strange feeling you may have experienced- almost as if you were missing an appendage- is just one sign that you may use and rely on your phone heavily throughout the day. That dependence is something many of us can relate to. The statistics are staggering- on average, people reach for their phone 2,617 times each day. All those minutes add up quickly, and it can be a downfall to our health. Studies have shown that people that use their smartphone for at least five hours a day have a higher risk of obesity.
It isn’t just a slight uptick in the risk of developing obesity. Scientists found that people who use their phones at least five hours a day have a 43% higher risk of becoming obese than those who used their phones less often. The cause of this increased risk is not surprising. Spending more time in front of a smartphone likely means that you are sedentary. Reducing physical activity is what ultimately leads to the increased risk of many health issues, including obesity. Less physical activity also means an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, musculoskeletal issues, pain levels, and even premature death. When so many Americans aren’t active at all, despite evidence of how vital it is to include physical activity into every day, smart phone usage compounds the problem.
Another study revealed that it wasn’t just a more sedentary lifestyle that led to higher risk of obesity, but study participants were also shown to be twice as likely to drink more sugary drinks, fast food, sweets, and snacks. In combination with a less active lifestyle, a diet full of processed foods high in sugar and fat, just packs on the pounds and increases the risk of developing further health concerns, including an increased risk of all-cause mortality.
The concern isn’t just with adults, either. One study from Shanghai revealed that school-aged children and adolescents also experienced higher risk of obesity with increased smart phone usage. This is concerning as evidence shows that children that are obese have a significantly greater risk of maintaining an unhealthy weight into adulthood. Obese children and adolescents were around five times more likely to be obese in adulthood than those who were not obese. Around 55% of obese children go on to be obese in adolescence, around 80% of obese adolescents will still be obese in adulthood and around 70% will be obese over age 30. When over 40% of American adults are now considered obese, as measured by BMI, it is essential that children and adolescents are guided in developing healthy relationships with technology that will support their health into adulthood.
How to go about reducing smartphone usage
How do we reduce smart phone usage when it is so ingrained into our daily lives? Email, weather, news, socializing, shopping, banking, home convenience apps (Alexa, home alarm systems, music, etc)- even a good chunk of this post was written out on a smartphone. It’s hard to escape the convenience of a device that can be used for nearly everything, and can be at your side whenever it is needed. Try these tips:
- Start with one day a week: Most people will pick one day a week to reduce or completely cut their smart phone usage. This helps you focus on relationships with friends and family, work on a hobby, disconnect from stressful news coverage, cut ties with work email, and just take in and enjoy the immediate surroundings. Once you’ve become accustomed to one day, try adding portions of other days. For example, setting the phone down once you arrive home from work or school and not using it for the evening.
- Use apps that help keep you accountable: It sounds counterintuitive to load another app to help cut smartphone usage, but sometimes seeing the amount of time you’ve been staring at the screen is enough to motivate you to cut back. Some apps will track usage, allow you to set screen time limits, send you notifications when it’s time to shut off the phone, and provide support in other similar fashions.
- Move the charger away from your bedside: Many of us wake up and immediately reach for the phone and start to check email and catch up on what we missed overnight. And similarly, many also doze off with their phone in hand, or use it up until the time they shut their eyes at night. The light from the screen disrupts your sleep, impacting the quality of rest you get and not getting quality sleep can impact your weight. Stop using your device at least two hours before sleep, or better yet, set the phone down when you get home and leave it there until the morning.
- Change your device settings: It’s hard to ignore a phone that is pinging, buzzing, ringing, or otherwise yearning for attention. Change your notification settings to silence anything that isn’t urgent. We don’t need to read every news story the moment it is published, respond to every text the moment it chimes, we also don’t need to scroll through social media endlessly, searching for something to entertain us. Catch up on news once a day. Set an away message on your smartphone for people to call you if there is a pressing matter. Develop a hobby and spend time doing that when the pang hits you to dive into screen time. You’ll feel more relaxed and benefit from the technology break.
Technology is amazing and helps us experience the world and interact with others in unimaginable ways. But, it has its downfalls. Make the shift to utilize devices as tools to support us in what we do, don’t allow their addictive designs to impact your health and relationships.