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Cell Phone Use in Pregnancy: Risks for Child?

Study Shows Possible Link Between Prenatal Cell Phone Exposure and Childhood Behavior Problems
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 6, 2010 -- Exposure to cell phones before birth and afterward may increase a child’s risk for developing certain behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, inattention, and problems getting along with peers, a study suggests.

The study is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The new research does have limitations; the study researchers point out that there aren’t enough data to say how, or even if, cell phone exposure may cause any behavioral problems in children.

“There are theories, but we do not know,” says study researcher Leeka Kheifets, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in the UCLA School of Public Health. “Exposure to the fetus is likely to be very low, so it’s unclear how it can influence fetal development.”

But taking some simple precautions to reduce exposure during pregnancy and among children seems prudent. “Be aware of your exposure and while the science develops, use precaution,” she tells WebMD. “It is very easy to reduce exposure by keeping your phone away from body and using a hands-free device, so why not do it?”

Cell Phone Exposure and Behavior

The researchers analyzed data on cell phone use from 28,745 7-year-olds and their moms who were part of the Danish National Birth Cohort study. The mothers provided information on their lifestyle including cell phone use during and after pregnancy. They were interviewed again about their kids’ cell phone habits and behavioral issues when their children turned 7.

They found that 35.2% of 7-year olds used a cell phone. Less than 1% of children used their cell phone for longer than one hour a week. Based on the reports by their mothers, the majority of children (93%) had no behavioral issues, 3.3% had borderline behavioral problems, and 3.1% showed signs of behavioral problems including emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, and relationship problems.

Close to 18% of children were exposed to cell phones during pregnancy and after birth, and this was the group with greatest risk for behavioral problems, the study suggests.

The new findings mirror those of an earlier, smaller study of about 13,000 children from the same Danish birth cohort.

Going forward, Kheifets plans to look at the children when they turn 11 and see if the findings still hold. Children will be able to answer questions regarding their cell phone use for themselves by the time they are 11.

Reducing Cell Phone Exposure

The time to act is now, says Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, the founder of Environmental Health Trust, a group that educates the public about environmental health risks and pushes for policy changes needed to reduce these risks. She is also the author of Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family.

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