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The Surprising Health Dangers Of Smartphones Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background Illustration – Pixabay (PD)
Here’s my full report on smartphones and health, including information on emissions, spinal health and driver safety. 11 tips to reduce the health risks of mobile devices are at the end.
Smartphones are now an established aspect of human life. As one of the most convenient technological innovations in the history of mankind, these devices essentially “came of age” in 2007, when the Apple iPhone combined the functions of a cellular phone and a handheld computer, with the inclusion of full touchscreen capability. Making calls – the original function of the mobile phone – used to be the device’s main function. However, a British survey showed that less and fewer people are using this function – which only came in 11th place. Texting remains the top application of mobile phones, followed by browsing social media, sending and reading emails, taking photographs, online shopping, checking the weather, and banking.  The device has come a long way since its Motorola researcher Martin Cooper made the first mobile phone call from a handheld subscriber equipment to his rival, Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs.
Modern smartphone and other handheld devices offer features that appeal not only to teenagers but to adults. These features include internet communication, information retrieval, video, games and business tools. The mass mobilization of smartphones started probably ten or fifteen years ago. Data from the 2021 Mobility Report from Ericsson  reveals that there were around 8.1 billion smartphone subscriptions globally. This figure will continue to increase, with 8.9 billion mobile device subscriptions being predicted for 2027. By 2027, Ericsson predicts that 5G will have overtaken 4G and amount to 4.4 billion subscriptions.
Given the huge and increasing number of mobile device users, the number of hours of device use per day has also risen enormously since the explosion of cellular phones use in the 1990s. This development has raised concerns about phones’ effects on various areas of human health.
This article will explore the impact of electromagnetic waves on human brains, the implications of excessive usage of smartphones on upper extremities, back, and neck, and the risks of using cell phones while driving. Another section of the article will discuss the harmful effects of smartphones on children while another one will explore solutions on how we might mitigate the health implications of using mobile phones.
II. Effect Of Electromagnetic Waves Emitted From Cell Phones On Human Health
“Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”, a book written by Adam Alter in 2017 highlights the role of new technology additions in controlling, distorting, and even ruining the lives of people.  This addiction could lead to spending too much time on your phone, whose negative effects may not be obvious. One of the hidden effects is cell phone radiation – which produces radiofrequency waves from the antenna, which is now typically inside the body of the hand-held phone.
The human body absorbs a certain amount of radio frequency energy from electronic devices, which is known as the Specific Absorption Rate. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission requires all smartphone manufacturers to report the maximum SAR level of their product. The FCC has set the allowed upper limit of SAR in the U.S. to 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight.
However, the listed SAR value of a cell phone is only based on the phone’s operation at its highest power. The actual Specific Absorption Rate is dependent on a number of variable factors during use, so it is very difficult to determine exactly what users would typically be exposed to with normal phone use. This is where the problem comes in – devices with a lower quoted SAR may actually cause higher RF exposure than devices with a higher listed SAR.
A few studies have looked at the possible link between cell phone use and cancer. This has been a highly controversial topic since the beginning. According to a Swedish study published in the International Journal of Oncology in 2008, there are significant associations between long-term cell phone use and brain tumor risk. The researchers confirmed the relation between cell phone use and formation of malignant brain tumors. 
A more recent study was posted on a prepublication website managed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The $25-million animal study posited links between cancer and chronic exposure to RF generated by cell phones and other wireless devices. The evidence presented by this investigation strongly supported the association between the formation of rare cancers and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.  The study was conducted by researchers at the National Toxicology Program, an interagency group under the National Institutes of Health. 
III. Vulnerability of Children to the Harmful Effects of Cell Phones and Other Microwave-Emitting Technologies
There is emerging evidence that children’s health is the most prone to the harmful effects of smartphones. The use of cell phones has paved the way for the adoption of abbreviations or “textisms” which are shortcuts in electronic communication. A British study affirmed the causal contribution of textism usage to spelling performance of children aged 8-12 years. The researchers forwarded the role of textism use in predicting unique variance in spelling performance of the kids. 
Doctors and scientists from Harvard and Yale medical schools advised pregnant mothers to keep cell phones away from their womb to avoid the possible impact of radiation on the brain development of their unborn babies. While there is insufficient evidence on the impact of the microwave radiation and radio frequency radiation on unborn children, the researchers stressed the importance of caution. 
In one study, scientists from Yale Medical School observed that the offspring of mice had decreased memory and were hyperactive after they put cell phones on the top of cages containing pregnant rats. The baby mice were not paying attention to their surroundings, according to one of the study’s authors.
Another research stressed that the size and thickness of a child’s skull make the absorption of microwave radiation higher than that of adults. The study utilized brain models and computer simulations to confirm this effect.
IV. Cell Phone Usage And Spinal Health
More than half of American adults spend about 195 minutes using their cell phones every day. Many studies reported on the effect on human’s upper extremities, back and neck due to the poor posture encouraged by usage of handheld devices. A Canadian study advised smartphone owners to hold their devices at eye level or to have a break from texting to reduce neck pain. First reported in The Spine Journal, the study attributed neck and upper back pain to poor posture during prolonged smartphone use. The authors found out that young patients had abnormally high levels of occurrence of disk hernias and spinal alignment problems, which are issues that used to be prevalent in adults. The spine surgeons involved in the study also suggested the importance of some physical exercise that can strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles. 
In another study, symptoms related to musculoskeletal disorder were diagnosed in students who had prolonged use of smartphones. Those who participated in the study reported that they used their devices for email, browsing, recreation gaming, and making calls. The authors discovered the causation role of the duration, frequency of cell phone usage and typing style in triggering the symptoms of upper limb pain. 
A group of researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University found out that using smartphones more than three hours a day could potentially cause symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome – inflammation in the hands and wrists, leading to pain and numbness. Their findings provided another evidence on the relation between musculoskeletal symptoms and use of electronic devices. 
V. Effect of Smartphones on Driving Safety
One of the most serious health dangers of smartphones is their terrible influence on car safety. Despite knowing the risks, people find it difficult to resist the compulsion to check their messages, text or do other smartphone activities while driving.
Data from the National Safety Council revealed the astonishing data that more than a quarter of car crashes in 2013 were due to cell phone use. This shocking statistic translates to more than 1.5 million incidents of vehicular accidents caused by using smartphones while driving. This clearly makes driving safety the #1 health risk of smartphones – and one that is actually completely avoidable. Pull over!
Six percent of these incidents were cell phone-related crashes due to texting. The potential risk of using smartphones on the health and lives of drivers is not something to be ignored. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that nine people are killed each day and hundreds are injured by distracted driving.
A new study led by driving analytics company Zendrive showed that 88 percent of drivers spend 3.5 minutes on the phone per one hour trip. This stat is even worse when you realize that a two-second distraction means higher risk of crashing. Estimates from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blamed distraction-related crashes to the death of 3,500 people in 2015. 
An article published in Time magazine noted that 70% of people would admit using their smartphones at the wheel. This information came from research done by telecoms company AT&T.  The study’s findings are outlined below:
• Seven in ten people engage in smartphone activities while behind the wheel
• Four in ten smartphone users tap into social media while driving
• Three in ten are surfing the net
• One in ten smartphone users video chat
The addictive nature of social media and messaging apps is certainly implicated. A report prepared by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD or Students Against Destructive Decisions explained why teen drivers text or use their smartphones while driving. The respondents shared that they feel pressured to respond immediately by texting. Others added that they couldn’t help but peek at their phones when notifications pop in their apps which include Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The potential consequences of the ‘always on’ lifestyles of youngsters are sometimes fatal, said the researchers.  And this is not just to the persons themselves but to other innocent road users who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
VI. Blue Light And Circadian Rhythms
Blue light emitted by modern devices – including television screens, computer monitors and LCD screens of mobile devices – influences the brain, stimulating the production of “daytime hormone” serotonin and suppressing melatonin. As a consequence, sleep can be disrupted, especially if the devices are used in the late evening, as they so often are. However the disruption to sleep causes more than just tiredness, it can play a part in disruption of other hormones, which collectively make up the body’s circadian rhythm. Blue light from devices has been linked to metabolic syndrome, with consequences including weight gain and even increased cancer risk.
VII. 11 Tips To Reduce The Health Risks Of Using Mobile Phones
There are diverse and alternative solutions to mitigate humans’ dependency from mobile phones, some of which are actually simple and just require a decision and commitment. These strategies allow users to reduce their reliance on cell phones and relocate their attraction to other activities:
1: Driving safely requires 100% of your concentration. Avoid using the device while driving. You could die – or kill someone! This is real! Pull over to answer calls and texts.
2: Hold the device further away from your head and body. Use ‘speaker mode’ when appropriate and don’t leave the device in a pocket close to the skin if possible.
3: Avoid sleeping with your mobile phone powered on. Putting the phone in airplane mode will stop wireless electromagnetic transmissions.
4: When at home or office, use a corded landline when possible.
5: Do not use your handheld device in metal contained spaces like train, elevators or car.
6: Communicate via text messaging instead of making a voice call to keep the device away from your head.
7: Hold the device higher up to reduce “text neck”. Use a monitor with good ergonomic position rather than a mobile device for work wherever possible.
8: Reduce access to Internet for teenagers by applying mobile data limitation.
9: Encourage your friends to forget using cell phones while having lunch or dinner.
10: Find time to engage in physical exercises and stretching to mitigate physical and mental side-effects of too much cell phone use.
11: Block the blue light from devices in the evenings to minimize the disruption to sleep and metabolism. Consider blue light blocking glasses (Amazon link), which filter and absorb 98%+ of blue light emitted from laptops, computers, mobile phones etc.
 The Express UK. March 13, 2017. REVEALED: Top uses of our smartphones – and calling doesn’t even make the list. https://express.co.uk/life-style/science-technology/778572/Smartphone-phone-common-reason-use-call
 Ericsson Mobility Report. https://ericsson.com/en/mobility-report
 Adam Alter. March 7, 2017. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. https://www.amazon.com/Irresistible-Addictive-Technology-Business-Keeping/dp/1594206643
 M. Nathaniel Mead. October 2008. Environmental Health Perspectives. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569116/
 Kuster CM et al. May 19, 2016. Report of Partial Findings from the National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation in Hsd: Sprague Dawley SD rats (Whole Body Exposures). https://biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2016/05/26/055699.full.pdf
 Wood C et al. August 2011. British Journal of Psychology. A longitudinal study of children’s text messaging and literacy development. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21751998/
 Andrea K. McDaniels. May 3, 2016. The Baltimore Sun. Pediatric researchers suggest potential dangers for children from cellphone exposure (via web archive). https://web.archive.org/web/20180306164436/https://baltimoresun.com/health/blog/bal-cell-phones-child-brain-story.html
 Cuellar JM et al. June 2017. “Text neck”: an epidemic of the modern era of cell phones? https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1529943017300967
 Rajan Balakrishnan, Elanchezhian Chinnavan, Tan Feii. 2016. International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health. An extensive usage of hand held devices will lead to musculoskeletal disorder of upper extremity among student in AMU: A survey method
 Alan Mozes. June 23, 2017. Study: Smartphone use may bring on carpal tunnel syndrome. https://upi.com/Health_News/2017/06/23/Study-Smartphone-use-may-bring-on-carpal-tunnel-syndrome/1961498223352/
 Aarian Marshall. April 17, 2017. Turns out, a horrifying number of people use their phones while driving. https://wired.com/2017/04/turns-horrifying-number-people-use-phones-driving/
 AT&T Newsroom. May 29, 2015. Smartphone Use While Driving Grows Beyond Texting to Social Media, Web Surfing, Selfies, Video Chatting. https://about.att.com/story/smartphone_use_while_driving_grows_beyond_texting.html
 Katy Steinmetz. August 4, 2015. FOMO Is Making Teens Terrible Drivers. https://time.com/3983112/distracted-driving-teens-smartphones/
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