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More students use smartphones for study—and it’s causing them pain

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A team of Texas A&M researchers found that smartphones have become the most common link to educational materials though they have the least favorable control and display scenario from an ergonomic perspective. Additionally, the team concluded that, regardless of device, ergonomic interventions focused on improving posture and facilitating stress management may reduce the likelihood of pain.

The results of the team’s study, “Health-related consequences of the type and utilization rates of electronic devices by college students,” were published recently in the open-access, peer reviewed journal BMC Public Health.

“When we started this study a few years ago it was because we had determined that college students were the heavy users of smartphones,” team leader Mark E. Benden, School of Public Health, said. “Now those same levels we were concerned about in college students are seen in 40-year-olds and college students have increased to new levels.”

Benden, professor and head of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and director of the Ergo Center, co-authored the study with associate professors Adam Pickens, S. Camille Peres and Matthew Lee Smith; Ranjana Mehta, associate professor in College of Engineering; recent graduate Brett Harp and Samuel Towne Jr., adjunct assistant professor.

The research team used a 35-minute online survey that asked participants about their technology use, posture when using the technology, current level of pain or discomfort, and their activity and stress levels.

Among the respondents, 64 percent indicated that their smartphone was the electronic device they used most frequently, followed by laptops, tablets and desktop computers. On average, the students used their smartphone 4.4 hours per day, and they indicated that when doing so, they were more likely to do so on the couch or at a chair with no desk.

“It is amazing to consider how quickly smartphones have become the dominant tech device in our daily lives with little research into how that level of use would impact our health,” Benden said.

The researchers found that posture components and stress more consistently contributed to the pain reported by the students, not the variables associated with the devices they were using.