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Do Mobile Devices Affect Kids' Health?

SUREN on May 24, 2014

Not only is the usage of mobile devices at an all-time high among adults, but it also is among children today. It is estimated that nearly half of all children in developed countries own a smartphone. Even more have access to a tablet or other mobile device in the household. K-12 schools around the world are issuing mobile devices of all kinds to students for personalized and project-based learning. What this means is that all of us are constantly exposed to the radio frequency fields around these devices. The health effects of such sustained and repeated exposure is still being studied, with mixed results.

Image from SCAMP study

The World Health Organization has published an online Q&A on this topic. Research has focused on four areas - cancer, other health effects, electromagnetic interference, and traffic accidents. While RF fields have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), studies so far have not supported the hypothesis. As for other health effects, there is some evidence that mobile device usage can affect brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. Another study, The Stewart Report, concluded that children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head, and a longer lifetime of exposure. The WHO Q&A concludes:

While an increased risk of brain tumours from the use of mobile phones is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore a potentially longer lifetime of exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group and is currently assessing the health impact of RF fields on all studied endpoints.

A recent study - Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) - commissioned by the Department of Health in the UK is attempting to do exactly that. 

SCAMP is a cohort study which will follow a group of approximately 2,500-3,000 secondary school pupils within Greater London from year 7 through to year 9. The aim of this study is to investigate whether children’s use of mobile phones and/or other technologies that use radio waves e.g. portable landline phones and wireless internet, might affect their cognitive or behavioural development e.g. language comprehension, attention, memory.

This will be the largest study in the world to date to address this important research question. Mobile devices are increasingly part of our children’s everyday lives. Let us hope that this study reaches its goal of providing "targeted advice to parents and children as appropriate". Visit the SCAMP website to learn more.

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