Smartphone Overuse and Visual Impairment in Children and Young Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Dec 8;22(12):e21923. doi: 10.2196/21923.


Background: Smartphone overuse has been cited as a potentially modifiable risk factor that can result in visual impairment. However, reported associations between smartphone overuse and visual impairment have been inconsistent.

Objective: The aim of this systematic review was to determine the association between smartphone overuse and visual impairment, including myopia, blurred vision, and poor vision, in children and young adults.

Methods: We conducted a systematic search in the Cochrane Library, PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science Core Collection, and ScienceDirect databases since the beginning of the databases up to June 2020. Fourteen eligible studies (10 cross-sectional studies and 4 controlled trials) were identified, which included a total of 27,110 subjects with a mean age ranging from 9.5 to 26.0 years. We used a random-effects model for meta-analysis of the 10 cross-sectional studies (26,962 subjects) and a fixed-effects model for meta-analysis of the 4 controlled trials (148 subjects) to combine odds ratios (ORs) and effect sizes (ES). The I2 statistic was used to assess heterogeneity.

Results: A pooled OR of 1.05 (95% CI 0.98-1.13, P=.16) was obtained from the cross-sectional studies, suggesting that smartphone overuse is not significantly associated with myopia, poor vision, or blurred vision; however, these visual impairments together were more apparent in children (OR 1.06, 95% CI 0.99-1.14, P=.09) than in young adults (OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.57-1.46,P=.71). For the 4 controlled trials, the smartphone overuse groups showed worse visual function scores compared with the reduced-use groups. The pooled ES was 0.76 (95% CI 0.53-0.99), which was statistically significant (P<.001).

Conclusions: Longer smartphone use may increase the likelihood of ocular symptoms, including myopia, asthenopia, and ocular surface disease, especially in children. Thus, regulating use time and restricting the prolonged use of smartphones may prevent ocular and visual symptoms. Further research on the patterns of use, with longer follow up on the longitudinal associations, will help to inform detailed guidelines and recommendations for smartphone use in children and young adults.

Keywords: child; meta-analysis; mobile phone; overuse; smartphone; systematic review; visual impairment; young adult.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Smartphone / instrumentation*
  • Young Adult