Every input that comes our way has an effect on physiology. This includes the food we eat, the environmental toxins, the words we hear and so much more.
In the 30’s cigarettes were not recognized as a health threat and were even recommended as a treatment for asthma. High fat diets have been linked to cardiovascular disease. We now have discovered that many chemicals once deemed as safe are dangerous. Medications have been pulled from the market. Sometimes learning about health and changing a mind-set takes time.
In 2008 an American spent, on average, 10.6 hours a day with the media. The time had increased to 11 hours a day by 2011 and I am sure in 2016 the time engaged in the media is similar. As time has progressed, more and more media is available on a mobile device. This includes the Internet, social media, texts, tweets, television, and even the dinosaurs of media, radio and print. Who needs anything but a mobile device? The world agrees.
As of January 2014, it is estimated there are 7 billion cell phones on the planet. The use of these mobile devices is on the rise. Today, there are three times as many mobile devices as in 2010. The use of mobile devices, as a proportion of the time spent in the media, has increased significantly. The average American spends 7.4 hours in screen time including 151 minutes on smart phones and 43 minutes a day on tablets according to Meeker’s Internet Trends. The trends are probably similar around the world. More time is spent with screens than in sleep. I think the question, “Should Mobile Devices be classified as a Health Risk?” is a legitimate question. If more people would have asked this about cigarettes years ago, who knows how health history may have been altered. After you finish this blog, answer the question for yourself.
There are currently limited studies in the literature and long- term studies are not available yet. The exposure time, age during exposure, placement of device, and cumulative exposure to these electromagnetic, non-ionizing, waves are important variables. Most of the exposure is from the cell phone, but cell towers also emit these microwaves. Excessive exposure to waves from the sun can be damaging. It is highly possible that chronic exposure to radiofrequency energy may pose a risk to our DNA. A mutation is not a word I embrace. Let’s examine 10 possible health risks and use some common sense as we answer the question, should mobile devices be classified as a health risk?
1. Accidents in vehicles. This is obviously a health risk. One 2009 study estimated that 2000 teens succumbing to motor vehicle accidents each year have mobile devices involved. 90% of college students claim to text in the car. Twenty-five per cent of college students claim to search the web while driving. Many countries, and some states, make using a mobile device operating a vehicle illegal. I was at a stop light recently and counted six of eight drivers using a mobile device. Mobile devices in a vehicle must be considered a health risk. I think, currently, this is the number one risk.
2. Promotes immobility. If you are on a mobile device, you are usually not moving. Being sedentary is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and joint problems to name a few.
3. Vision changes. Eye fatigue has been demonstrated including retinal damage from long- term exposure. The term digital eyestrain from the HEV (blue light) is now in the jargon.
4. Brain changes/cancer. A 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) article suggests mobile device use could be a carcinogen leading to brain cancer. Most studies, thus far, say no, there is no risk. The Center for Disease Control and Federal Communications Commission says there is no conclusive evidence. The WHO says it is possible. In one study, cell phone radiation changes the brain’s electrical activity as demonstrated by EEG’s. A JAMA 2011 study, using PET scans, showed 50 minutes on a cell phone altered brain glucose metabolism. Kids are more vulnerable to radiation in general because of thinner skulls and developing brains. Also, the left and right brains may be altered as we are processing data rather than being creative. This creates an imbalance. There is much more to learn. Can our hippocampus handle all the data? Addictions have now been reported.
5. Sleep disorders have been recognized. No sleep produces stress chemistry.
6. Hearing problems may occur from long- term use. A mobile device glued to an ear over time could wear out the delicate ear.
7. Infections from devices. Bugs colonize the device and could lead to infection if hands and device are not washed. A colony of pathogens might be waiting.
8. Skin problems may occur from cobalt and nickel, and metallic screens. This seems less of a problem to me.
9. Infertility. Mobile device radiation, in some animal studies, alters the sperm count of the animal. Could this translate to humans?
10. Stress levels increase. Have to check my phone for messages, calls, the latest news, the social media. … Am I missing something? Where is my cell phone? Did I leave it in the car?
If mobile devices might be a health risk, as other activities and substances have been in the past, we need more studies and data. The current evidence says that we are using the devices more now than ever. If you do not believe the last statement, just look around. Look at those in cars, in restaurants, sitting in the park, walking down the street, waiting for a ride at work, in class, and even those participating in other media. Multi-tasking now includes mobile devices. They are everywhere!
Before you answer the question, to help lower risk, here are 6 suggestions.
1. Never, I repeat, never, use a device in a car while driving.
2. Distance- keep the device as far from the head as possible.
3. Limit exposure to the mobile device. Less is more.
4. Keep away from developing brains including brains in utero.
5. Keep away from a pacemaker or AICD just in case. Use the opposite side away from devices.
6. Increase anti-oxidants and rest to help repair DNA, just in case.
Remember, we need more face time than screen time. More laps than apps. Our brains are busy enough. Do we need all the brain inputs when we do not understand the long-term health implications fully?
It is time to answer the question, Are mobile devices a health risk? If the answer is yes, is the risk worth the benefit? It might take some time to fully understand the risks of mobile devices. But with the prevalence in society and overall exposure, this is a worthy question. More to come….