Physical Health Effects of Smartphones

Most people are aware of at least some of the physical health risks associated with smartphone use. From digital eye strain to

Cindy Eckard: Screens and Kids

Cindy Eckard is a Maryland mom of two who has researched and written extensively about the many health risks associated with screen use by children. She has probably the most comprehensive collection of scholarly articles and research studies on her blog. Here is one post:

Substantial Medical Documentation

The following medical studies and reports were all shared online just last month; it is only a small sample of the new and growing data that underscore the health risks students face.

From epidemic myopia and obesity to retinal damage, sleeplessness and soaring suicide rates among our children, the alarms being sounded by the medical community should be a wake-up call to schools, parents and pediatricians. Daily digital device use in any setting - including a classroom, where kids spend the majority of their childhood - poses a public health risk to growing children if not used safely.  

It's important to note that most of the following reports also contain additional citations to even more scientific evidence, illustrating the myriad health impacts our children now face.

Health risks associated with (HEV) blue light emissions

Review of Optometry: Seeing Blue: the Impact of excessive blue light exposure

An optometrist who was also a middle school teacher, Dr. Heather Flint Ford cites exhaustive research in her overview of blue light hazards from ubiquitous digital device use, concluding: "It is vital to consider the potential hazards of such exposure and to educate our patients about its risks, including the loss of antioxidant and anticancer functioning, disruption to the circadian rhythm and sleep cycle, and potential vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD)."

USC Roski Eye Institute, May 2018: Ocular tolerance of Contemporary Display Devices

Over 60 studies cited. "These findings raise concern that a threshold for acute damage may exist, or, more concerning, long-term, chronic changes that may potentially be already occurring under current usage patterns [of electronic screens]."

CBS New Health Watch: Eye Doctors Concerned About Blue Light From Electronic Devices

"They give out iPads for the kids to do their homework on. I never thought it could be damaging." Blue light may be factor in the development of myopia as well.

Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics: "Circadian rhythms, refractive development, and myopia", First published: 24 April 2018

"Retinal signaling is now believed to influence refractive development; dopamine, an important neurotransmitter found in the retina, not only entrains intrinsic retinal rhythms to the light:dark cycle, but it also modulates refractive development."

Myopia is a growing epidemic

Many people don't realize that myopia - nearsightedness - is not necessarily a simple matter of putting on glasses. It can be a progressive condition that usually begins in childhood. Uncorrected, it can lead to serious complications later in life. Severe myopia is associated with glaucoma, retinal detachment and cataracts, all of which can be blinding if not properly treated in time.

USC's Roski Eye Institute reports that myopia among American children has doubled in the last 50 years, and near-work such as the daily use of digital devices is a known factor. Scientists are also finding that outdoor play may mitigate the condition, due in part to chemical reactions caused in the brain and in the eye by "good" blue light from the sun.

Increased recess at school may hold the key for improving students' eyesight, while also addressing obesity. Both are associated with daily use of digital devices.

Healthline: Outdoor play to mitigate myopia

"Studies have shown that more time spent outdoors can reduce the risk of myopia, but fewer children are playing outdoors as they spend increasing amounts of time on electronic devices."

Myopia Prevention and Outdoor Light Intensity in a School-Based Cluster Randomized Trial.

New Taiwan study shows that outdoor classroom reduced myopia.

Dry Eye Disease

Children do not blink often enough when using digital devices; they literally stare into the screens. As a result, pediatric ophthalmologists are now observing dry eye disease in children. If the surface of the eye becomes too dry, it can cause serious, sometimes irreparable, damage.

Dr. Preeya Gupta, pediatric ophthalmologist: "Dry Eye Disease and Kids"

"A problem for which we don't routinely screen is affecting children, with permanent effects. What's more, knowing this may alter the way we currently look at baseline gland architecture in adults. Only by examining pediatric patients for MGD and atrophy can we treat the problem before dry eye symptoms or permanent damage develops."


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine now links screen time to insomnia symptoms and depressive symptoms in adolescents. This is critical information, given the alarming rise in teen suicides (noted below).


New York Times: Childhood Suicide rates have nearly tripled, New York Times, May 16, 2018

"From 2008 to 2015, the proportion of emergency room and hospital encounters for suicide-related diagnoses almost tripled... In the new study, the researchers noted a strong temporal relationship between the school year and the frequency of the encounters for suicidal thoughts or actions; the rate dropped sharply in the summer."

Still in denial?

This, and more highly accessible, voluminous research are just tiny drops in the vast sea of scientific documentation that continues to grow regarding the impact of tech tools on children's health.

Those professionals who deny that there is relevant and applicable evidence regarding this public health threat are beginning to appear not just misinformed, but increasingly, self-serving.

"Educational" apps offer no special power to protect growing children from the physical and psychological impacts posed by these devices. That convenient mythology has been upended by the passage of Maryland's classroom screen safety bill, which recognizes the need to protect children from avoidable classroom health risks.

Learn More:

Cindy Eckard, @screensandkids,

More health impacts of screen use: Text Claw, Text Neck and Tiny FontVision Syndrome may sound silly but these are actual physical side effects of too much smartphone use. This article is worth the read: Unhealthy Side Effects of Smartphone Use

National Institute of Health: 

In 2011, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified mobile phone radiation possibly carcinogenic, means that there “could be some risk” of carcinogenicity, so additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones needs to be conducted. (3) The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the IARC classification means that there could be some risk associated with cancer, but the evidence is not strong enough to be considered causal and needs to be investigated further. Individuals who are concerned about radiofrequency exposure can limit their exposure, including using an ear piece and limiting cell phone use, particularly among children. (5)

Children have the potential to be at greater risk than adults for developing brain cancer from cell phones. Their nervous systems are still developing and therefore more vulnerable to factors that may cause cancer.

The FDA (7) have suggested steps to reduce the exposure to radiofrequency energy:

  • Reserve the use of cell phones for shorter conversations or for times when a landline phone is not available.

  • Use a hands-free device, which places more distance between the phone and the head of the user.

California Department of Public Health:

Berkeley, California, to Require Cellphone Health Warnings: “The Federal Communication Commission recommends keeping your phone 5 to 25 millimeters away, depending on the model, to limit radio frequency (RF) exposure to safe levels….'If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation," the Berkeley safety notice reads. "This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.’”