Update: Smartphone Addiction

While it may sometimes seem that we are all addicted to our mobile phones, a recent Chinese study has linked side effects from true smartphone addiction to eating disorders (Front. Public Health 11:1111477. doi: 10.3389). In a cross-sectional study of 1112 college students aged 17 to 29, from several universities in Chengdu, China, nearly 23% of students were identified as addicted to their smartphones, and 10% of these students were at risk of developing an eating disorder. The researchers used the Chinese version of the Mobile Phone Addiction Index (MPAI) and the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26) (Front Public Health. 2023. 11:1111477. doi: 10.3389l).

The total EAT-26 scores of students with smartphone addiction were higher than those of other students without the addiction. Students with smartphone addiction skipped breakfast significantly more often than normal subjects, and the frequency of drinking carbonated soft drinks was higher in the students with smartphone addiction than among those without the addiction. Time spent on the Internet, time used on a smartphone on weekends, and time using a smartphone on weekdays (hours per day) were significantly higher in the students with smartphone addiction. Those with smartphone addiction used their phones for an average of 5 hours a day and 6 hours on weekend days. When asked about the purpose for using the phone, the students reported using their phones to view music/video/social networks for 292 minutes a day; for gaming, 270 minutes per day; for shopping, 185 minutes per day, and for studying, 243 minutes per day.

Most students are aware of their overdependence on smartphones; however, the study participants reported that it is difficult to control this behavior by themselves. In addition, it has been pointed out that students with higher depression and anxiety levels are more likely to use smartphones as a compensatory attachment target (Modern Prev Med. 2021. 48:491). Moreover, several studies found that using a smartphone during normal sleeping hours alters the circadian system and cerebral blood flow, and even leads to changes in cardiac rhythm and negative sleep patterns. (Current recommendations suggest that smartphones should be kept at least 3 ft away from the body during sleep.) In addition, research showed that bedtime procrastination played an intermediary role between smartphone addiction and poor sleep quality.

The authors found smartphone addiction was positively correlated with eating disorders. In addition, the Mobile Phone Addiction Index (MPAI) scores were significantly positively correlated with the frequency of eating fast food, eating late-night snacks, and drinking carbonated soft drinks, and significantly negatively correlated with the frequency of physical activity and sleep duration. Previous studies also suggested that smartphone addiction can lead to changes in lifestyle-related factors, resulting in irregular eating. While the authors note some limitations to this work, there is one key question. There are many scales to measure problematic mobile phone use and there can be little argument that use of these phones can be problematic; but is it best considered as an “addiction?”

The study results confirmed the close associations between smartphone addiction and eating disorders, as well as between eating habits and lifestyles among college students. In accordance with the results, early screening and management of smartphone use among university students is recommended. To lower the risk of addiction to their phones, parents and teachers should pay more attention to a student’s’ mental state to cultivate healthy eating habits and lifestyle characteristics and to improve their abilities of self-regulation. The modification of dietary habits and lifestyle factors needs to be considered when developing strategies and interventions to prevent smartphone addiction among college students

The authors concluded that Smartphone addiction is significantly associated with eating disorders, eating habits, and lifestyle. The influence of dietary habits and lifestyle needs to be considered to help prevent smartphone addiction among college students.

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