The 10 detrimental health effects of wireless devices. By Juhana Harju. (Finnish non-fiction author and nutrition expert. Besides nutrition, he is also interested in the salutary effects of nature and adverse effects of technology.)
Almost everyone nowadays has a smartphone. We use them so much every day that it is a good idea to consider their possible detrimental effects on health. The observed detrimental effects and risks of smartphone use will henceforth be discussed.
1. The use of smartphones and tablets weakens eyesight
The use of smartphones and tablets has significantly increased myopia or short-sightedness. According to ophthalmologists this is caused by two factors. Too much time is spent viewing at close distance and not enough time is spent outdoors during daylight hours.
Two years ago the scientific journal Nature published an article, The Myopia Boom. This feature article addressed the rampant, epidemic-like increase in myopia. The article considered the possible causes for the increase in myopia and possible remedial measures.
According to researcher Ian Morgan, who was interviewed for the article, children should spend at least three hours daily in an environment with a minimum luminosity of 10,000 lux. This means, in practice, that children should spend more daylight hours outdoors (Dolgin 2015).
Smartphone users have also been diagnosed as having more eye-related problems such as reddening of the eyes, eyesight disturbances, eye secretions, inflammation, tears, or dryness of the eyes.
A Korean study highlighted the connection between smartphone use and the eye-related problems of teenagers. The study noted that teenagers whose daily smartphone use was very frequent had more than double the amount of eye-related problems than those whose use was much more limited.
The same study noted that life-long smartphone use was even more strongly connected to a greater risk of suffering from a number of eye-related problems – those with the most frequent life-long smartphone use had three times the incidence of eye-related problems in comparison with teenagers whose life-long use was much more restricted (Kim 2016).
If we would choose to promote the sustenance of good eyesight in children, school lessons should be conducted in the open air during daylight hours without any gazing at mobile devices. Physical exercise should be practised mainly outdoors and many lessons could be held in nature.
2. The use of smart gadgets hampers posture
Hours are spent daily in the company of smartphones. Usually smartphones are used in a hunched position with the head bent forward. It has been observed that this type of usage leads, already in children, to a hunching of the upper back (Savela 2017).
An article in the Helsingin Sanomat has noted that young people’s and children’s posture has transformed into a sitting-type position whereby the person is somewhat hunched with the shoulders pointing forward (Kylmänen 2016).
According to the Finnish Move study as many as thousands of girls and boys are unable to sit with a straight back. According to the same study 16 percent of fifth grade boys are unable to go down into a crouched position.
The effect of smartphones on the position of the neck and upper back has also been studied. In a study focused on young Korean adults it was observed that those using smartphones at least 4 hours per day were more hunched at cervical spine than those exhibiting less frequent use (Jung 2016).
It was also noted in the same study that the way of breathing of very frequent smartphone users was shallower.
The researchers concluded that frequent smartphone use can have a detrimental effect on both posture and breathing.
3. Frequent smartphone use diminishes physical health
School children’s physical activity has diminished steadily, according to the Finnish Liitu study, the results of which were made public at the end of 2016. Secondary school students, especially, were found to engage in too little physical activity.
Lack of physical activity, even in the case of children, is seen as a significant public health risk factor. Nearly 40 percent of ninth graders are so sedentary and are seated so much of the time that the risk of suffering from lifestyle diseases in later life such as type 2 diabetes goes up significantly.
In an article in the Helsingin Sanomat, Dr Tommi Vasankari has said that if the current lifestyle of youngsters continues unabated, lifestyle-related illnesses will become the norm considerably earlier than in today’s over fifty year olds (Kylmänen 2016).
The exacerbated use of wireless devices is seen as the reason for the lack of physical activity. The fiddling and game-playing with smartphones takes up so much of children’s time that physical activity is squeezed out. According to the Liitu study, only 5 percent of Finnish children and young people currently fulfil the screen time recommendation which is less than two hours of screen time per day (Kokko 2015).
The physical condition of students that are frequent cell phone users is also worse. In a US study, a comparison was made between the physical condition of approximately twenty year old students reporting frequent and non-frequent daily cell phone use, respectively. The study ascertained that the aerobic fitness of students who were frequent cell phone users was worse than that of low frequent users (Lepp 2013).
The researchers also clarified through questionnaires the reason why the physical activity of frequent cell phone users diminished. It turned out that the frequent cell phone users were more likely to forgo opportunities for physically active pursuits in favour of spending time in Facebook or Twitter, for example. The researchers concluded that cell phone use can diminish physical activity and can weaken the degree of aerobic fitness.
4. Headaches from long cell phone calls
The relationship between cell phone use and poor health was highlighted in a Korean study. The study found that cell phone use is a risk factor in the case of headaches. Long cell phone calls were especially associated with the risk of headaches. The study also underlined that the headache producing effect can be chronic (Cho 2016).
It has also recently been found that migraine headaches among young children have become increasingly common. The reason may be the pronounced increase in the radio frequency radiation produced by wireless technology.
5. Cell phone use increases the risk of tinnitus
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears which usually does not have a physiological cause. In a case-control study published in 2010, it was noted that continuous cell phone use for more than four years almost doubled the risk of tinnitus compared to those subjects that had not used cell phones during this period (Hutter 2010).
A more recent review article concluded that prudence in cell phone use is advisable in order prevent hearing damage and the onset or worsening of tinnitus (Medeiros 2016).
6. Smartphone use induces strong dependency
A study conducted by a Hungarian university focused on the reactions of 18-26 year old young adults when they were forced to part with their smartphones. The phones of the test subjects were stashed away in a locked cupboard, and the researchers monitored how the subjects reacted to this.
The researchers observed that the separation of the young adults from their phones brought about post-traumatic stress symptoms such as a speeded up heartbeat, fidgeting and scratching. Similar symptoms can, for example, be seen in small children when they are separated from their parents. The subjects who were separated from their phones tried to rectify the situation by approaching the cupboard where the phones were locked up (Konok 2017).
It is a healthy phenomenon when mutual attachment develops between a child and a parent or between a couple, for example. It is unhealthy, however, when strong attachment develops between a person and a technical gadget.
7. The use of cell phones hampers students’ sleep
According to a meta-analysis comprised of 20 separate studies, cell phones hamper the sleep of children and teenagers. According to the meta-analysis published in the scientific journal Jama Pediatric, the use of wireless devices during time spent in bed was strongly correlated with insufficient sleep, poor quality sleep, as well as pronounced daytime fatigue (Carter 2016).
Noteworthy in the results of the study is the fact that the mere technical possibility of using wireless technology during night-time, without it actually being used, was connected to insufficient sleep, poor quality sleep and pronounced daytime fatigue.
This latter observational anomaly may, for example, be due to the fact that switched on wireless networks are adversely affecting sleep because of radiofrequency radiation. Another possibility is that the daytime use of the devices may hamper sleep later at night.
8. The use of wireless devices weakens sperm quality
Meta-analyses comprised of many separate studies are high up in the hierarchy of scientific evidence. Significantly, there is already now meta-analytic evidence of the fact that cell phone radiation weakens sperm quality.
A meta-analysis was published in 2014 which underscored the effects of cell phone radiation on the mobility, vitality and quantity of spermatozoids in seminal fluid. According to this meta-analysis based on nine previous studies, cell phone radiation weakens the mobility of spermatozoids by 8 percent (Adams 2014). The study also indicated that cell phone radiation diminishes the quantity of spermatozoids in seminal fluid. The results pertaining to the latter remain less conclusive, however.
It was ascertained in the meta-study that the detrimental effect on sperm is not primarily due to increased temperature. Cell phone radiation was seen as having a detrimental effect on sperm in terms of the mechanism of oxidative stress and subsequent damage to DNA.
Cell phone radiation was already viewed as nefarious before the publication of the above meta-analysis. Stanton Glantz is a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School. In his renowned graduate level statistics textbook, Primer of Biostatistics, he concludes:
“Taking all the information we have discussed on cell phones and sperm allows us to confidently conclude that exposure to cell phones adversely effects sperm.” (Glantz 2012)
In addition to cell phones, WiFi equipped laptop computers have also been observed to have a detrimental effect on men’s fertility. WiFi equipped laptop computers have been observed to diminish the mobility of spermatozoids as well as accentuating the breaking up of their DNA (Avendaño 2010).
The use of cell phones has also been correlated to erectile dysfunction. In a small-scale study, 20 men complaining from erectile dysfunction were compared to 10 men that did not have erection problems.
It was ascertained in the study that there were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of age, weight, tallness or testosterone levels. However, the men complaining of erectile dysfunction were observed to keep their cell phones connected longer than the men who didn’t suffer from erectile dysfunction (Al-Ali 2013).
9. Smartphone use is suspected to be the cause for the increased prevalence of thyroid cancer
The prevalence of thyroid cancer has increased globally and it is the most common form of cancer in South Korea at present. Thyroid cancer has also become more common in the Nordic countries (Carlberg 2016).
The reason for the increased incidence of thyroid cancer is seen as having to do with improved diagnostic methods but also with the increased use of computed tomography, as well as the increased use of smartphones. Unlike the cell phones of the previous generation, smartphones also include antennas in their lower parts, thereby exposing the neck of the user and the area around the user’s thyroid gland to a lot of radiation, especially in the case of long phone conversations without a handsfree.
To date, at least 11 scientific articles have evaluated the effect of cell phone radiation on the activity of the thyroid gland. For example, one Israeli study ascertained that in humans radiofrequency radiation accelerates the division of thyroid gland cells in humans.
Dr Joel M. Moskowitz has highlighted the scientific evidence concerning the relationship between cell phone radiation and the activity of the thyroid gland in his science blog (Moskowitz 2016).
10. Radiofrequency radiation from cell phones causes brain tumours
A new systematic study has found that long-term cell phone use increases the risk of brain tumours. It was found that long-term or frequent cell phone use correlates with a 33 percent increase in the risk of brain tumours. The study defined long-term use as a minimum of ten years.
Scientific evidence that cell phones cause cancer is further substantiated by the results of the $25 million NTP study conducted in the US. Considered a high-quality study, the large-scale NTP study found that radiofrequency cell phone radiation caused tumours or pre-cancerous cells in every twelfth male laboratory rat (Wyde 2016).
Many notable institutions, such as the European Environmental Agency and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend the application of the precautionary principle in order to offset the negative effects of cell phone use. In practice, this may mean, for example, reducing cell phone use or using a hands-free headsets, as well as substituting wireless networks in schools and homes with wired Internet connections.
When researchers singled out the best quality studies in terms of methodology, they observed that these studies underscored the relationship between cell phone use and its associated risks to a greater extent than methodologically inferior studies. In the highest quality studies, the risk of brain tumours was anywhere between 1.2 and 2.6 times the risk associated with individuals that did not use cell phones (Prasad 2017).
The risk can actually be even greater given that many of the studies only focused on cell phone use by adults. Yet nowadays cell phone use begins at a very early age. In Finland, use already begins before children are of school age. A scientific article notes:
“Studies carried out in Sweden indicate that those who begin using either cordless or mobile phones regularly before age 20 have greater than a 4-fold increased risk of ipsilateral glioma.” (Davis 2013)
The more detailed analyses of Interphone’s studies also show that tumours have been observed as being more likely to occur close to the area of the brain in the vicinity of which the cell phone was used. This in turn strengthens existing scientific evidence that cell phones really are a causal factor of tumours (Grell 2016).
Need for measures to reduce the use of smartphones and gadgets
The rampant use of smart gadgets is thus seen to be detrimental to health in many ways. All in all it can be said that life around smartphones and tablets has become a public health problem. It should therefore also be addressed as such.
The World Health Organization WHO has indeed expressed its concern in the matter (Pasha-Robinson 2017). In most countries, on the other hand, the public health authorities have not yet done anything to curtail the over-use of smart gadgets. The passivity of these institutions may have to do with corruption or simply be the result of the intense lobbying of the mobile industry.
It is high time to address the issue in a concerted manner. The rampant use of smart gadgets should be approached as a risk factor akin to cigarettes. The health jeopardizing over-use of these devices, which is especially pronounced in the younger generations, should be restricted through concrete measures.
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