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Phones are making kids grow horns? Not quite

Young people on phones

Apparently, young people are growing horns as a result of phone use.

Two health science researchers at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast, David Shahar and Mark Sayers, made this bizarre discovery after examining hundreds of x-rays of people’s skulls and spines.

In their study, the pair looked at bony growths called external occipital protuberances (EOPs) in people aged between 18 and 86 years. They found that 18-29 year olds were most likely to have an enlarged EOP compared to other age groups.

These EOPs, or bone spurs, often form as the result of repetitive motions – for example, tilting the head forward (perhaps to look at a smartphone).

No one gave these findings much thought until features on the BBC and Washington Post websites showcased the researchers’ work. Since then, a number of news stories have run with the idea that phone use is changing us into horned monsters.

However, before anyone starts to panic, it’s worth noting that the researchers merely make an educated guess that these bone spurs may be due to “the increased use of hand-held technologies from early childhood.”

The study never measured phone use, so any connection between devices and enlarged EOPs is purely speculative. The study also contradicted itself and included a number of minor numerical errors, leading some to wonder how it got through peer-review in the first place.

And let’s not forget that there are plenty of activities which require you to lean your head forward – writing or reading a book are two obvious ones.

The panicked discussion about this research brings to mind ‘smartphone pinky’. Remember that? When it was suggested that a curve in the pinky finger bone was a deformity caused by balancing your phone on your little finger when you hold it. Just to be clear, a curved little finger bone is completely normal and can happen for a number of reasons.

The bottom line is that we currently do not have enough evidence to assess the impact phone use is having on our skulls and spines.

Truth told, we love to fear our mobile devices. We can’t live without them, yet we’re terrified that advancing technology is out to get us. But rest assured, using a phone will not result in anyone sprouting devil horns.

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