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Excessive smartphone usage linked to health issues in adolescents

In a recent comprehensive investigation involving over 50,000 young individuals from Korea, experts found that excessive smartphone usage, defined as more than four hours daily, correlated with an increase in negative mental health outcomes and substance abuse. 

This study, conducted by Jin-Hwa Moon and Jong Ho Cha from Hanyang University Medical Center in Korea, was recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Surge in smartphone usage 

Previous studies have highlighted a surge in smartphone usage among younger demographics, linking it to various health concerns including psychiatric conditions, sleep disturbances, ocular issues, and musculoskeletal problems. 

Interestingly, some emerging studies suggest that moderate daily internet use might actually contribute positively to the physical and mental well-being of this age group.

Focus of the study

To further explore how smartphone usage impacts the health of adolescents, Moon, Cha, and their team delved into more than 50,000 responses from the ongoing Korea Youth Risk Behavior Web-based Survey, which included responses from 2017 and 2020. This comprehensive dataset encompassed daily smartphone usage times and various health indicators. 

The team employed sophisticated statistical methods, such as propensity score matching, to adjust for potential confounding variables like age, gender, and socioeconomic background.

Key insights

The findings revealed a notable increase in smartphone usage among adolescents from 2017 to 2020, with those exceeding two hours of daily use jumping from 64.3 to 85.7 percent. 

Alarmingly, adolescents engaging in over four hours of smartphone use daily exhibited higher instances of stress, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse compared to those with less than four hours of usage. 

Conversely, moderate use of one-two hours daily appeared to be less problematic than not using a smartphone at all.

While the study stops short of establishing a direct cause-and-effect relationship between smartphone usage and adverse health impacts, its insights are crucial for developing future guidelines for adolescent smartphone use, particularly as these usage patterns continue to evolve.

Smartphones and mental health in adults

Smartphones and their impact on adult mental health is a topic of ongoing research and debate. 

Smartphones enable constant connectivity and instant communication, which can be both beneficial and detrimental. They allow people to stay in touch with friends and family, which can be positive for mental health. However, this constant connectivity can also lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to disconnect.

Social media 

Many adults use smartphones to access social media. While these platforms can provide a sense of community, they can also lead to negative mental health outcomes through comparison, cyberbullying, and the pressure to maintain a certain online image.

Information overload

Smartphones give access to an endless stream of information and news. This can cause stress and anxiety, especially when the news is negative or when the user feels compelled to constantly stay updated.

Sleep disruption

The use of smartphones, particularly before bedtime, can disrupt sleep patterns. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

Addiction and dependency

There’s growing concern about smartphone addiction, where individuals may become overly reliant on their devices, leading to issues like neglect of personal relationships, reduced productivity, and increased anxiety and depression.

Positive apps 

On the bright side, smartphones provide access to mental health resources, like meditation apps, online counseling, and mood-tracking tools. These can be beneficial for managing stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Variability in impact

The impact of smartphones on mental health can vary widely among individuals, depending on factors like the amount of usage, the type of content consumed, and the individual’s pre-existing mental health status.

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