A recent survey of over 3,000 individuals in the U.S. found that 85% of adult Americans currently own a cellular phone1, and similar rates have been reported in Canada (in 2010 78% of Canadian household owned a cellular phone)2.  Originally, mobile phones were used only for calls and text messaging however the advent of the ‘smartphone’ (a mobile phone with greater computing capability and connectivity than the original ‘feature phone’) has changed all that – internet usage is now mobile.  Certainly it is true that smartphones often contain additional features such as a portable media player, camera, and/or global positioning system (GPS), however the most commonly used feature remains web browsing.  This is significant considering that in the U.S. over half of all mobile phone owners have a smartphone1.  In fact, a recent Code report estimated that the amount of data traffic on cellular networks will increase 40-fold over the next 5 years, primarily due to mobile web browsing3.

So it appears that more and more people are acquiring smartphones and using them to access the internet but how does this relate to health?  The report cited at the beginning of this blog also reported that close to 1/3 of cell phone owners said they used their phones to access health information, a rate that nearly doubled since 2 years ago1!  In addition, about one in five said they had a health-related app, most commonly one concerning weight, diet, or exercise1.  Furthermore, a large-scale U.S. study reported that from Sept. to Nov. 2012 39% of cell phone owners accessed a social networking site, an activity more common that listening to music or playing games4.  In a previous blog we discussed how internet usage can benefit an individual’s health and/or increase their levels of social support and smartphones therefore allow for these benefits to be accessed nearly anytime and anyplace.

Unfortunately, mobile phone text messaging remains an under-utilized medium for health promotion and maintenance.  Less than 10% of mobile phone owners said they received text messages or alerts about health, with the most common users being women and adults aged 30-641.  This is unfortunate given the research that increasingly shows the benefits of text messaging for improved health and/or behavior change at relatively low cost.  In an up-coming blog we will review the research on mobile health (i.e., mHealth) to illustrate just how promising this new area is.

References:

  1. Fox S, Duggan M. Mobile Health.  Pew Internet & American Life Project, November 8, 2012, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Mobile-Health.aspx, accessed on Nov. 14. 2012
  2. Residential Telephone Service Survey, December 2010, Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/110405/dq110405a-eng.htm, accessed on Nov.14.2012
  3. Coda Research Consultancy 2010, CODA Research Corporation, http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/30/mobile-data-traffic-rise-40-fold/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29, accessed Nov.15.2012
  4. comScore Report Sept.-Nov. 2012, http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press_Releases/2012/11/comScore_Reports_September_2012_U.S._Mobile_Subscriber_Market_Share, accessed Nov.15.2012