How Media & Technology Affects Children | Child Development
How Tech Can Help or Harm Health if You Have Diabetes
When you have type 2 diabetes, it’s smart to rely on technology to track your healthy habits, but be careful to also limit frivolous scrolling on your smartphone.
By Moira Lawler
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
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Technology can be a double-edged sword when you have diabetes: It can help you track vital statistics about your health, but it can also threaten to take you off course. “Overall, the message is to use technology judiciously,” says Susan Evans, PhD, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “If you’re using it for self-monitoring your exercise and sleep, that can be really helpful, but limit the amount of time.”
Apps That Can Help People With Diabetes
Lori Newsom, a 58-year-old from Washington, DC, with type 2 diabetes, sees technology as a good thing. She uses apps to track exercise and food intake. “It helps me stay in range,” she says.
And there’s research to back her up: According to a review published in October 2012 in the journalClinical Diabetes,using phone apps can lead to better diabetes management. There are apps to help you count carbs, track blood sugar, and log exercise, and even ones that can help you find someone with insulin when you need it. “It can really save lives if you think about it,” says Caroline Messer, MD, an endocrinologist with Fifth Avenue Endocrinology in New York City. “You’re caught in the middle of Times Square and don’t have any insulin, and you can find someone around you who has it.”
Apps have also been proven to help with weight-loss efforts — another important factor for anyone who is overweight and has type 2 diabetes. According to a study published in January 2015 in theJournal of the Royal Society Interface, people who participated in an online weight management program — andreallyparticipated, meaning they logged in regularly and connected with other members — lost 8.3 percent of their body weight over the course of six months compared with 4.1 percent for those who didn’t actively participate.
Online groups can also help people with diabetes feel less alone. Newsom says she doesn’t usually comment, but she reads and learns from others. “It makes me feel like there’s a community of people who understand what I’m going through,” she says.
Diabetes medications also have advanced, thanks to technology. Afrezza, for instance, is a fast-acting inhalable insulin that doesn’t require injections. And Dexcom alerts people of any blood sugar changes in real time.
Downsides of Technology
Here’s the catch: Spending too much time on screens can be a bad thing. “Being online can be a huge time-suck,” Evans says. “It can take time that could be used for sleeping and exercising and socializing, and all those are really critical for physical well-being.”
One minute you’re planning to quickly check Facebook, and the next thing you know, an hour has gone by. You’ll now have to go to bed later than planned, which can be problematic for people with diabetes because not getting enough sleep increases levels of ghrelin, making you feel hungrier, while decreasing your levels of leptin, making it harder for you to feel full, Evans says. As a result, you may overeat the next day.
Then there’s the toll technology may take on your mental health. Accordging to a study published in April 2019 in theJournal of Medicine and Life, people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to be depressed. And according to a study published in January 2019 in the journalDepression and Anxiety,logging onto social media frequently can induce unhappy feelings. The researchers surveyed more than 1,700 adults and found those who spent more time on social media were significantly more likely to be depressed.
Think about it: Social media puts everyone else’s accomplishments on display. One friend just lost 20 pounds, while another friend humblebrags about her 5K race time. All great for them, but not great for you if you compare yourself and feel down as a result.
Not to mention, a review published in January 2019 in the journalMolecular Visionsuggested that blue light emitted by screens of all shapes and sizes — your TV, phone, laptop, and tablet — may disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to stick to a healthy sleep schedule.
How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship With Technology
When you have diabetes, there’s a right and wrong way to use technology. Follow these tips to make sure your relationship with tech is responsible:
Assess your current technology consumption.“Track it for a week and then take a look and ask yourself, ‘Is that something I really want to be doing?’” Evans says. Is it taking away from your ability to exercise, sleep, or plan your meals? Would there be a benefit to reducing your usage? “People might not realize how much actual time they are online,” Evans says. “It can be a wake-up call.”
Shut down electronics, especially those with blue lights, an hour before bed.This will help increase production of the natural sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, thereby increasing your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Use technology for the apps that help.Just be careful not to go overboard — too much screen time may lead you to become overly sedentary, and a study published in February 2015 in the journal PreventiveMedicine also links its use to a greater risk of anxiety and depression in youth, suggesting the same may hold true for adults.
Put a time limit on social media sessions.Evans recommends allowing yourself 10 minutes to look at your newsfeed and then getting on with your day. Consider setting a timer as a reminder of when your time is up!
Make the dinner table a device-free zone.“The idea is to clue in and pay attention to what you’re eating,” Evans says.
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