Consistent cell phone service has direct link to health and well-being

Consistent cell phone service has direct link to health and well-being

June 10, 2021

A causal relationship has been demonstrated linking the reliability of cell phone service with an individual’s health and well-being, according to a University of Georgia researcher.

Glenna Read, an assistant professor of advertising at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, worked on the seven-month longitudinal study investigating how stable cellphone access impacts health and quality of life of people experiencing poverty.

The paper, “Making stability dependable: Stable cellphone access leads to better health outcomes for those experiencing poverty,” was recently published in the journal Information, Communication and Society.

“Consistent cellphone access was associated with improved health and well-being outcomes over time,” said Read, the lead author on the paper. “Furthermore, while all participants benefitted from consistent cellphone access, those who benefitted the most were those who reported having low social support.”

The increasing reliance on cellphone technology ignores the fact that many individuals are unable to maintain consistent, reliable access to cellphones. Previous research finds that devices are often lost or broken, are expensive to replace, and that low-income users often run out of minutes.

In this study, participants in the treatment group received phone cards providing unlimited talk, text, and data and participants in the control group were given grocery store gift cards of the equivalent amount. Over the course of the experiment, participants were asked about their overall health; quality of life measures such as psychological quality of life or self-esteem, social support and environmental factors such as safety and financial resources; and cellphone access.

 Participants in the treatment group reported better health and quality of life compared to those in the control group. Emotional social support moderated this relationship in such a way that those with the least social support benefited the most from stable cellphone access.

“We know that social support is critical for health and well-being and not having access to that support, especially when it’s limited, can have a negative impact on quality of life,” Read said. “These findings highlight the importance of ensuring consistent and reliable cellphone access for all Americans.”

An increasing number of healthcare and social service industries rely on cellphone-enabled technology, such as apps, text-messaging and voice communication as a primary means of connecting with employees and customers. The pandemic only accelerated this reliance on remote communication tools. The results of this research, which was conducted prior to the pandemic, proved that those with reliable, consistent cell phone service have better health outcomes and sense of safety and emotional support.

“I hope the results of this survey will be helpful in forming policy,” said Read, who also directs Grady College’s Brain, Body, and Media (BBAM) Lab. “Something I thought about a lot about during COVID is that if you have interrupted cell phone or internet service,­ you lose everything in a world that has gone digital. One basic way to ensure such an infrastructure is to subsidize both cellphone and internet service.”

This study was conducted by a team of researchers from University of Georgia, Indiana University and University of California – Santa Barbara.