The use of smartphones, tablets and laptops has become commonplace around the world and is particularly widespread among college students. Recent studies have found that college students have more screen time and are more likely to use multiple devices compared to previous generations.
With the increasing use of these devices, especially smartphones, students tend to use a less traditional workspace like a couch or chair without a desk, leading to an increase in musculoskeletal disorders in this age group. A team of Texan A&M researchers, led by Mark E. Benden, conducted a study that looked at the technology the students used, the postures they adopt when using their devices, and the pain they experience currently feel.
Benden and his co-authors found that smartphones have become the most common link to teaching materials, even though they have the most unfavorable operating and display scenario from an ergonomic point of view. In addition, the team concluded that ergonomic interventions that focus on improving posture and making stress management easier, regardless of the device, can reduce the likelihood of pain.
The results of the team’s study were recently published in the peer-reviewed open access journal BMC Public Health.
“When we started this study a few years ago, it was because we found college students using smartphones a lot,” said Benden. “Now the same values that we were concerned about in college students are being seen in 40-year-olds, and college students have taken a new level.”
Benden, Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) at Texas A&M University School of Public Health and Director of the Ergo Center, conducted the study together with EOH Special Professors Adam Pickens, S. Camille Peres and. written by Matthew Lee Smith, Ranjana Mehta, Associate Professor in the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Brett Harp, a recent EOH graduate, and Samuel Towne Jr., Associate Professor in the School of Public Health.
The research team used a 35-minute online survey asking participants about their technology usage, their posture while using the technology, current levels of pain or discomfort, and their activity and stress levels.
Among respondents, 64 percent said their smartphone was the most widely used electronic device, followed by laptops, tablets and desktop computers. On average, the students used their smartphones for 4.4 hours a day and stated that they were more likely to do so on the couch or in a chair without a desk.
“It is amazing how quickly smartphones have become the dominant technical device in our daily lives without further research into how this use affects our health,” said Benden.
The researchers found that postural components and stress were more consistent contributors to the pain reported by the students, rather than the variables associated with the devices they used.
Still, researchers point out that in our increasingly technology-oriented society, efforts are needed to ensure that pain is postponed or delayed into old age in order to keep the workforce productive.
“Now that we are moving towards hybrid and / or remote workplaces for our jobs, college students are adopting dorm and apartment room habits into young adulthood as home office workers,” said Benden . “We have to do it right, otherwise it could have negative effects on an entire generation.”