Do Cell Phones Make You Fat?

People talk a lot about how technology impacts fitness and overall health. A recent study explored whether frequent cell phone users are less fit than casual users.

Could there be any truth to the claims that technology impacts our health? Yes, says a recent study – at least in the case of cell phones. Researchers at Kent State University examined 49 college students. The students were interviewed at length to determine their cell phone usage, physical activity levels, and the relationship between the two. The average student reported about five hours of cell phone use per day. That includes about 200 text messages sent and about six voice calls per day.

Researchers used this data to identify a group of intense cell phone users and another group of merely casual users. The students were then put through a test of aerobic endurance. The test pitted students against a treadmill that increased in steepness every two minutes until the student quit. During the test several students grabbed their phone to text a friend, “omg, im dying” (just kidding).

At the end of the day, researchers found high levels of cell phone use correlated with many negative health effects. The group of intense cell phone users showed much less aerobic endurance than the casual users. In fact, the data showed that every additional text message and every additional call reliably predicted the student would have less and less endurance capability. So next time your mother calls and you send her to voicemail, you’re not avoiding her, you’re just trying to improve your endurance.

Finally, the two groups showed vastly different preferences in leisure activities. Both groups identified about sixty activities in which they might participate on any given day. The casual cell phone users identified almost twice as many physical activities as the intense cell phone users. Furthermore, the intense group found 69 different ways to use their phone, while the casual group participated in only half of those uses. Use of Facebook and Twitter was particularly prevalent among the intense group and noticeably absent from the casual group.

But before you break out the torches and pitchforks, understand that the study in no way concludes that cell phone use causes sedentarism. It merely proves, with striking authority, that intense cell phone users are much less likely to engage in physical activity and more likely to have far less aerobic endurance than casual cell phone users. And yes, a million other factors play a part in this relationship, aside from cell phones and fitness. But this study does make us more aware of our behavior and forces us to question how cell phones may be impacting our lives, even when we’re not staring at the screen.


1. Andrew Lepp, et. al. The relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness in a sample of U.S. college students. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013,10:79. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-79

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