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Are Smartphones Making Us Fat? Convenience Comes with a Cost to Our Health

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

If Baby Boomers wonder why they struggle with weight, they might look no farther than their hand.

First, smartphones and other conveniences are essentially adding 500 calories a day to our diets compared to a few decades ago, a new book says. That translates to about a pound a week if we don’t exercise enough.

And meanwhile, a new study says we eat substantially more at meals when we’re using the devices.

Is the solution to go on a strike against personal tech? Hardly.

An Evolution of Convenience

Since the 1950s, changes in everything from cleaning products to food production to transportation have affected how much we move.

“Let’s remember back two generations, when you had to walk to the mailbox, and you had to push the lawnmower,” says Dan Zeman, author of “You’re Too Old To Die Young: A Wake-Up Call for Male Baby Boomers on How To Age With Dignity.”

Zeman isn’t on an anti-iPhone crusade. He’s just pointing out that, in general, while people don’t move incidentally as much as we used to, we are still eating as much or more than we did.

Household cleaning machines and supplies cut the expenditure of daily calories, says Zeman, an exercise physiologist with 40 years experience. Then came TV remote controls. Now electronic devices almost eliminate our need to move for many activities of daily living.

“Nutritional intake is still the biggest impact,” Zeman says. “We still eat like we’re mowing the lawn.”

It’s Not Really about Smartphones...

Millions of people use smartphone apps to track diet and exercise, find online resources, and share progress. All that can be helpful to staying fit.

But we need to be mindful of how and when we’re using our handy, 24/7 distractions. A recent study found that people who use them during meals eat 15 percent more calories, leading to weight gains.

They consumed more high-fat food. Overweight people ate even more than the rest of the volunteers.

Distractions like phones and tablets can confuse our brains from correctly understanding the amount of food we’ve eaten, said authors of the study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

It’s All about Making Adjustments

So, what does modern, easy living mean for adults over 50?

Working out regularly is highly important, of course.

Dan Zeman

But also, Zeman says, making adjustments is key.

For instance, consider how we change our household budgets at retirement. We know that we can’t spend like we’re still earning our full salary.

Similarly, with all our everyday conveniences, we must recognize we’re not spending as much energy as we used to. Instead, we should consume fewer calories and make more of an effort to move our bodies every day.

“I’d like to see manufacturers put stickers on modern tools and electronic devices that say how many pounds you’ll gain if you use them and don’t make any adjustments to your diet,” Zeman says. “It shouldn’t be just for Twinkies.”

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