Is your phone making you fat? Scientists link extended phone screen time to increased likelihood of obesity
05/18/2020 // Zoey Sky // Views

Aside from goring on junk food and not exercising, scientists have found another bad habit that can cause obesity and other health problems: excessive smartphone use. In their study, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, researchers warned that glued to your phone can increase the risk of diabetes, heart attacks or even cancer.

Cell phone use and disease risk

Researchers looked at the smartphone habits of 1,060 students enrolled in the Health Sciences Faculty of Simon Bolivar University from June to December 2018. The participants comprised 700 female and 360 male undergraduates, with an average age of 19 and 20, respectively.

The findings revealed that participants who used their phones for at least five hours a day were 43 percent more likely to be obese. In particular, male students were 36.1 percent likely to be overweight and 42.6 percent likely to be obese. Female students, on the other hand, were 63.9 percent likely to be overweight and 57.4 percent likely to be obese.

They were also twice as prone to bad habits that increase cardiovascular disease risk and other potentially fatal health problems, like:

  • Eating too much fast food, sweets and snacks.
  • Drinking fizzy, sugary beverages.
  • Not getting enough exercise.

Participants who used their smartphones for more than five hours a day were also 79 percent less likely to get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night. (Related: Put your phone away: Late-night smartphone use linked to sleep disorders and increased risk of serious health problems.)


Lead author Dr. Mirary Mantilla-Morron explained that smartphones were fuelling unhealthy lifestyles among users.

If you’re on your phone for too long, you might not have enough time for physical activities. Not getting exercise and gaining weight increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, different types of cancer, osteoarticular discomfort, musculoskeletal symptoms and even premature death.

Mantilla-Morron also reported that the study helped her team identify the link between smartphone usage and physical obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease, in an American College of Cardiology meeting in Colombia. It also helped them figure out that the length of time “in which a person is exposed to the use of technologies - specifically prolonged cell phone use - is associated with the development of obesity.”

Promoting responsible smartphone usage

To date, there are at least 7.9 billion cell phones being used around the world – more than the planet’s current population.

While smartphones are convenient for accessing various services and information, Mantilla-Morron warned that the general population must be educated on the proper use of mobile technology.

She added: “The sedentary lifestyle besides the bad nutritional habits in the university students, produce an increase of cardiovascular risk factors - turning it into a public health problem.”

She also pushed for more programs that will provide students with proper guidance on managing the time spent on smartphones and warn against unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits.

The researchers noted that smartphone use among students has changed rapidly and that it now makes up the majority of screen engagement among teens. Even younger users and children now have their own devices.

Newer screen devices can also significantly affect sleep quality since more gadgets are more portable, increasing the likelihood that young and adult users will bring the devices into their bedrooms or use then near or in their beds.

According to researchers, parents should put daily limits on how much teens use mobile gadgets and encourage healthy habits like exercising regularly and following a balanced diet to prevent obesity.

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