Children’s mobile risks – are we getting the full picture?

The latest industry-funded study on children and mobile phones is being presented as giving them the all-clear. But there are many reasons why it shouldn’t reassure us – not least because it studied children from 7 years old. There’s no way a child of that age could have used a phone for long enough for it to cause a brain tumour.

“Brain tumours can take more than 10 years to form, and young children certainly have not been heavy cell phone users for very long,” says Devra Davis, epidemiologist and author of “Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family.” She was not the only scientist to question the validity of the study – others have too.

Given this and other flaws in the study, it’s hardly surprising that it didn’t detect a higher risk of cancer related to children’s use of mobiles. This didn’t, however, stop the industry’s PR machine springing into action to pass on the ‘good news’ to the public via reassuring media headlines.

As is so often the case, these headlines ignored vital findings. The study in fact found that the cancer risk doubled for children who’d had phones for more than three years. Few media reports are pointing to that.

When research findings suit the mobile industry, it makes sure they get lots of air time. Last month the World Health Organization, after a comprehensive review of the evidence, classified mobile phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. The phone companies jumped on the opportunity to play down the risk, resulting in headlines that undermined the significance of the WHO’s decision.

The 140 or so studies that have found a link with cancer and other illnesses have received comparatively little coverage, so the media debate remains unbalanced. There’s no corporate PR department publicising them. Where commercial interests predominate, the facts can become a casualty. We need to ensure that our children don’t too.

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