How safe are mobile phones for children?

Mobiles are used so widely by children now that most people assume they are safe.  But the World Health Organisation has declared the radiation from mobiles to be a possible carcinogen.

Because the use of mobiles by children is such a new phenomenon, scientists haven’t studied it enough to be able to produce  conclusive proof either way.

But ongoing research shows a link between mobile phone use and serious health risks and differences in children’s anatomy make them significantly more vulnerable. For example, they can absorb at least double the radiation as adults.

What does the science say?

The World Health Organization has classed mobile phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (IARC Class 2B). Scientists don’t yet have all the answers because many of the dangers could take another 20 or 30 years to show up. A brain tumour typically develops unseen for at least 20 years before being diagnosed.

It was once the same with cigarettes.

Many public health experts believe that, as serious risks to children could be involved, we cannot wait for science to be conclusive.

John Wargo, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Risk and Policy at Yale University and lead author of a report released in February 2012 by US health charity EHHI that “The scientific evidence is sufficiently robust showing that cellular devices pose significant health risks to children and pregnant women. The weight of the evidence supports stronger precautionary regulation by the federal government. The cellular industry should take immediate steps to reduce emission of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from phones and avoid marketing their products to children.”

To date, the scientific research has produced more than 200 studies suggesting a range of health dangers. These include:

  • brain tumours
  • other cancers
  • genetic damage
  • reduced fertility

These come from a wide range of academic institutions around the world.

A review of the long-term health effects, published by an international group of scientists in Surgical Neurology journal concluded that there was a link between prolonged cell phone use and brain tumours developing on the side of the head to which the phone was held.

A World Health Organization study (Interphone) released in 2010 showed that using a mobile for more than half-an-hour a day for ten years increased the risk of a brain tumour. Two of Interphone’s lead scientists published a paper stating that adoption of “simple and low-cost measures, such as the use of text messages, hands-free kits and/or the loud-speaker mode of the phone could substantially reduce exposure to the brain from mobile phones” and is advisable.

Most of the studies that have not detected health dangers only studied short-term effects.

Children are more vulnerable

Radiation penetration for an adult, 10-year-old child and 5-year-old child. Gandhi et al 1996

Very few studies have investigated the health effects of mobile phone use on children, although all the evidence – and knowledge of their anatomical differences – suggests they are at higher risk.

Children absorb about 60 per cent more radiation into the head than adults (De Salles et al 2006). Their immature nervous system makes them more susceptible to the long-term effects. Because they now start to use mobiles at a young age, their lifetime of exposure compounds their vulnerability.

These scans show how radiation penetrates more deeply into children’s heads and how the younger they are, the more deeply it penetrates.

One study in the International Journal of Oncology (Hardell et al. 2011) has found that young adults who start to use a mobile before the age of 20 are at five times the risk of malignant brain tumors than those who didnt use a phone. The results are not conclusive because of the small sample size.

What do governments say?

  • The UK Department of Health recommends that children under 16 should use mobile phones for short, essential calls only.
  • The French government has banned advertising of mobile phones to children under 14 and is banning mobile phones in schools
  • The European Environment Agency has called for governments, industry and the public to adopt measures to reduce children’s exposure.
  • The Israeli parliament has recommended an education programme to alert pupils to the potential dangers of mobile phone use.
  • San Francisco has passed regulations obliging the mobile manufacturers to adopt mandatory radiation labeling on mobile phones

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